Are lateral flow test results included in headline Covid-19 case figures?

7 January 2022

The government has announced that asymptomatic people who test positive for Covid-19 on a lateral flow device (LFD) test will no longer need to have a confirmatory PCR test. 

It said that this is a “temporary measure” while rates of Covid-19 are high across the UK, and added that while rates remain high “the vast majority of people with positive LFD results can be confident that they have Covid-19.”

This policy came into force on 11 January in England. There are a few exceptions to the new rule, including people who need to access the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment. Similar policies have been introduced in Scotland and Wales (from 6 January) and Northern Ireland (from 5 January). 

This has prompted a number of public figures on Twitter to ask whether people who test positive on lateral flow tests only will be included in the total reported Covid-19 case numbers announced daily. 

The UK government Covid-19 dashboard contains information on how positive cases of Covid-19 are currently counted across the UK nations. 

In summary, currently, the information on this dashboard does feature cases identified by reported lateral flow tests for England and Northern Ireland. However, this relies on individuals reporting a positive lateral flow result online or via phone after taking the test, which they may not do. 

The headline case numbers for Wales and Scotland do not currently include reported positive lateral flow test results, although data on this is available elsewhere.  However, this may change over the coming weeks.

This means the headline UK daily cases figure reported on the government’s Covid-19 dashboard is likely to miss some positive test results.

How do the UK nations record lateral flow results?

In England, positive lateral flow test results are already included in the case data. However, as mentioned above, if an individual does not report their positive lateral flow test after receiving the result then their data cannot be included.

Positive lateral flow tests are also included in the case data for Northern Ireland, with the same caveat that the positive tests need to be reported. Data on the number of lateral flow tests and positive cases is also currently published on the website of the Northern Ireland Department of Health.

Positive lateral flow tests in Wales are not counted in the daily UK headline figures.

 A Welsh Government spokesperson told Full Fact: “Public Health Wales will continue to report positive COVID-19 results separately for both PCR tests and LFD tests. There are no current plans to include positive LFD tests in the headline case figures”. 

Finally, in Scotland the UK government dashboard states a confirmed case of Covid-19 is counted after a positive PCR test and that the number of positive results from rapid lateral flow tests are not currently included in daily case counts, although it does say that this may change in the coming weeks. The Public Health Scotland (PHS) dashboard  has begun reporting on the number of people with a COVID-19 infection confirmed by either a PCR or first positive lateral flow test.

Public Health Scotland told Full Fact that data on lateral flow tests is also included within its Covid-19 weekly report and interactive dashboard

Update 14 January 2022

This piece has been updated to include changes in case counting in Scotland.

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