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High street pharmacies are still without lateral flow tests just hours before Christmas, with shops going more than a week without resupplies.

Boris Johnson has urged families across the country to test at home before visiting loved ones over the festive period, particularly the elderly and those who may be more vulnerable to Covid.

An ‘unprecedented’ level of demand followed and Britons were last week unable to order tests online for several days – an issue ministers have since blamed on distribution.

In the absence of those orders, many have instead rushed to pharmacies to pick up kits, but they too have since been running dry, despite the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) insisting it had sent more than 11 million rapid flow tests to stores last week. 

Demand has surged even more this week after ministers announced those who contract the virus can be released from isolation three days earlier than before, providing they test negative on days six and seven. 

But vendors have had to display posters warning that they don’t have any stock, now say customers are wracked with ‘panic’, as they desperately try and get the all clear before Christmas. 

A sign informing customers that lateral flow tests are out of stock is seen at a pharmacy in London

A sign informing customers that lateral flow tests are out of stock is seen at a pharmacy in London

A sign informing customers that lateral flow tests are out of stock is seen at a pharmacy in London

How can you get hold of lateral flow tests? 

The NHS has a searching tool which allows people to find their nearest pharmacies which have tests available to collect. It is: www.maps.test-and-trace.nhs.uk.

Alternatively, people can order a pack from Gov.uk to be delivered to their homes. One pack can be ordered per day.

They can also be collected from community collection points or people can visit a testing point near to their homes.

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Anjala Sihota, a pharmacist in Bordon, Hampshire, told the Telegraph: ‘Our last box was a week ago.

‘It is quite difficult, especially with Christmas coming and people want to meet their families, they want to get tested before they meet people, which is what the Government guidelines are, and if they’re unable to get a test, then obviously the panic sets in.’

Mike Hewitson, who has a store in Beaminster, Dorset, said his last delivery of 59 kits sold out in 90 minutes, adding: ‘I’ve had more people shouting at me than at any time during the pandemic.’

The UKHSA says a ‘supply chain issue’ resulted in a delay in some shops receiving their test orders, but insists it’s continuing to send out millions each day, with delivery capacity doubling to 900,000 daily kits since Saturday,

Lateral flow tests, or antigen tests, are the rapid tests which tell people whether or not they have coronavirus.

Lateral flow tests provide results and tell people in 30 minutes if they have coronavirus by detecting proteins from the virus in the nose and throat samples.

Scientists have mixed views on their accuracy. PCR tests are, however, extremely accurate but take up to three days for results to come through. 

They detect the genetic material from a specific organism, specifically coronavirus, and are the best way to test if you have a current infection.

According to the Royal College of Pathologists, lateral flow tests should be taken by people who do not have symptoms.

A sign in the window of a north London pharmacy which has run out of NHS Lateral Flow Test kits

A sign in the window of a north London pharmacy which has run out of NHS Lateral Flow Test kits

A sign in the window of a north London pharmacy which has run out of NHS Lateral Flow Test kits

How accurate are lateral flow tests?

A study by the Queen Mary University of London, the University of Oxford, the Institute for Advanced Studies based in Vienna, and the Medical University of Graz published in July found that lateral flow tests detected more than 95 per cent of the cases found by PCR and correctly identified 89 per cent of cases as negative.

In March 2021, the Royal College of Pathologists said positive results by LFTs should be confirmed by PCR tests and people should self-isolate before they receive their PCR result.

Last week, the Health Security Agency (HSA) said lateral flow tests are as likely to detect Omicron as other variants of coronavirus.

PCR tests are still considered to be the most accurate tests when diagnosing coronavirus but should only be used by people who are showing symptoms.

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A factsheet on the RCP’s website states: ‘These tests are very different from PCR. They are not suitable for diagnosing individual patients who suspect they may be infected because they have symptoms.

‘People with symptoms need a PCR test. Lateral flow tests are intended for picking up additional infected cases who would otherwise be missed because they don’t have any symptoms.’

On the NHS website, it also says that people who have symptoms of coronavirus should also complete a lateral flow test rather than a PCR test.

Current advice states that if you test positive on a lateral flow you should follow up with a PCR test.

People are advised to do lateral flow tests before mixing with crowds in indoor places or visiting someone who is at high risk of getting Covid-19.

It’s also advised that if you’re vaccinated, but have been in contact with someone who then tests positive for coronavirus, you should do a lateral flow test.

On Sunday, Irene Petersen, a professor of epidemiology at University College London, said official advice should be updated to say that people should take the tests just before they are about to meet others due to the fast infection rate of Omicron.

She added that tests results ‘expire quickly’ as people ‘may switch from being non-infectious to infectious within hours’.

Government guidance currently recommends taking a test ‘if you will be in a high-risk situation that day’.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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