Some relaxation of Covid testing rules reported - will it help dental practices?

Some relaxation of Covid testing rules reported - will it help dental practices?

The Government is set to announce a relaxation of Covid testing rules as part of efforts to shorten isolation periods and ease staffing shortages, the Daily Telegraph reports, amidst reports that staffing shortages across the economy are ‘crippling’ Britain.

If true, this will come as some relief to hard hit dental practices facing the triple whammy of staff isolating at home, massive patient cancellations and, for those with NHS contracts, activity targets being raised to 85%.

But will the proposed changes be enough to save dentistry?

The Telegraph reports fears growing that staff absences have become as big a problem as Covid itself, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and 17 hospitals in Greater Manchester announcing on Tuesday that they would be suspending some non-urgent surgery, with 15 per cent of staff off sick.

Under the new proposals millions of people who test positive on lateral flow devices will be told they do not need to take follow-up PCR tests, which currently delay the official start of isolation for hundreds of thousands.

The Telegraph report continues: ‘Health officials have drawn up plans to limit PCR tests to those with Covid symptoms, allowing people who are asymptomatic – around 40 per cent of cases – to return to work more quickly.’ More than 1.2 million people are isolating after testing positive in the last week, with hundreds of thousands more waiting for tests or results.

Currently those without symptoms who test positive on a lateral flow are asked to order a PCR test and can only begin their isolation period when they receive the second result, effectively forcing them to isolate for longer than seven days.

Many dental practices will echo the views of MPs who have said there was a danger that "the cure is worse than the disease", with the numbers self-isolating crippling the country’s infrastructure. There were also some calls in Westminster for the isolation period to be cut to five days, in line with the US and France.

At a press conference on Tuesday the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, conceded that staff shortages were causing "serious disruption". He said there was "no escaping" the problem, but stressed that it was better than the devastation caused by a national lockdown.

Mr Johnson said: "We have a chance to ride out this omicron wave without shutting down our country once again. We can keep our schools and our businesses open, and we can find a way to live with this virus. But the weeks ahead are going to be challenging – both here in the UK and across the world."

Mr Johnson said that, from next week, 100,000 critical workers in areas such as food processing, transport and the Border Force would be offered daily lateral flow tests, but dentists will think that this only scratches the surface of the problem.

Separately, pressure is also mounting on the Government to reduce the testing burden on holidaymakers when international travel rules are next reviewed. Some travel industry insiders are calling for pre-departure tests to be scrapped entirely and day 2 PCR tests to be downgraded to rapid tests, with rules requiring arrivals to self-isolate until they receive their result to end.

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