Close contacts of confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be asked to take a PCR test within 48 hours of being identified as a close contact, whether or not they have symptoms.

Until now only people with symptoms had to take a PCR test. This additional measure, which will see all close contacts advised to have a PCR test, is aimed at identifying those close contacts who do not have symptoms but who could potentially be carrying the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This testing of asymptomatic contacts will provide further opportunities to identify more cases who would otherwise be unknown, to the Contact Tracing Service.

Speaking today, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “Testing of close contacts is the next step in the ongoing development of our testing initiatives in Northern Ireland.  Expanding and targeting PCR testing is a significant move in our fight against COVID-19, it will assist us as we move carefully out of restrictions and in keeping Northern Ireland open and moving.  

“We know that one in three people with COVID-19 may not have symptoms and may therefore spread the SARS-CoV-2 virus without knowing it.  By recommending PCR testing to all close contacts we will track how the virus is spreading and this will help to further break chains of infection.  Testing of close contact combined with enhanced contact tracing allows us to identify potential sources of infection an new cases earlier and will help keep us one step ahead in interrupting transmission.”

Minister Swann recently launched a number of initiatives to regularly test asymptomatic individuals in schools, business and local government using Lateral Flow Device testing. PCR-based testing of close contacts of confirmed cases is another important initiative, further strengthening our overall testing programme in Northern Ireland.

Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer, said: “As we move out of lockdown and prepare for some lifting of restrictions, we must use all the tools at hand in our ongoing battle against COVID-19.  Our vaccination programme continues to progress and this new initiative to test close contacts offers an extra layer of protection as we move forward in this pandemic.  Please continue to use the StopCOVIDNI App and please continue to follow the advice of Test Trace Protect if you are contacted.  This is as important now as when case numbers were higher.”

Testing of close contacts is not an alternative to self-isolation. Close contacts still need to isolate for the full 10 days even if their tests are reported negative.

How can we help?