Those who receive a positive lateral flow test result for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland no longer need it confirmed with a PCR test.
The Department of Health issued the new guidance on Wednesday as testing capacity came under pressure amid a surge of cases of the virus.
It also notified that a further three patients who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died and 7,133 more cases had been confirmed in the region.
The department said those who get a positive lateral flow test should assume they have Covid-19 and immediately self-isolate without seeking a confirmatory PCR test.
Rapid Lateral Flow Tests are available from more than 580 sites across NI, including over 500 community pharmacies.
Reporting every lateral flow result, positive or negative, is now vital for contact tracing.
— Department of Health (@healthdpt) January 5, 2022
The removal of the confirmatory PCR test requirement has been described as a temporary measure in response to the very high prevalence of Covid-19 in Northern Ireland at present.
Those who test positive for Covid-19 can leave self-isolation after seven days if they test negative on day six and day seven.
Associate deputy chief medical officer Dr Joanne McClean stressed the importance of reporting test results.
“I would really underline the importance of people reporting the results from their lateral flow tests. This allows contact tracing to be initiated and also helps us to monitor the progression of the pandemic,” she said.
Lateral flow tests can be ordered online from government or collected at some pharmacies.
Earlier, the chair of Community Pharmacy NI said demand for lateral flow tests is outstripping supply.
Peter Rice said each pharmacy only gets one box of lateral flow tests per day, which in some cases can be used up within an hour of receiving it.
“The Omicron variant has led to a significant increase in cases and also a significant change in how the testing is required, so instead of PCRs people now want LFTs and that has really ramped up the demand and meant that we just can’t get the tests quickly enough to satisfy what the customers want,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.
The department announced on Wednesday that more than one million lateral flow tests had been delivered to the region in the previous 48 hours.
In a statement it said the tests are available from more than 580 sites across Northern Ireland, including over 500 community pharmacies, and that pharmacies are being replenished regularly.
Programme director Matt Wills said: “I would ask everyone to be patient and keep trying if they are unable to access tests immediately.
“We know the Omicron variant spreads rapidly and lateral flow tests are an extremely effective way to reduce transmission.
“Regular testing will help to reduce pressure on our health and social care services, and protect the people close to us.”
Under the latest guidance, anyone who is attending an event or social gathering should take a test before they go.
And those visiting someone who is older or vulnerable are urged to take a test before meeting them.
Regular twice weekly testing is also encouraged.
Earlier this week, chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young said it is likely that as many as one in 10 people in some areas have or had Covid-19 over the festive period.
Prof Young said he expects the peak of the Omicron wave to happen in the coming weeks in terms of cases and mid to late January in terms of the impact on hospitals.