LATERAL flow tests could be offered to people in Wales instead of PCR tests over the winter – if demand for tests surges.

Speaking at a Welsh Government press conference, Mark Drakeford revealed that plans have been drawn up in case the demand for PCR testing rises higher than the available supply.

The first minister said that no one will go without a test should they need one, but some, less vulnerable people could find themselves offered a lateral flow test in the first instance.

He said that should the lateral flow test return a positive result, that person would then be offered a PCR test for a more accurate reading.

This warning comes after the demand for PCR tests in Wales has risen in recent weeks.

In the last week of September, 190,000 PCR tests were administered.

While there is said to be plenty of supply, Mr Drakeford said that “if the level of demand grows, we may need to make some choices to deal with demand.”

Speaking at the three week covid press briefing, Mr Drakeford fielding several questions on the topic of PCR testing – including potential changes to travel rules, and future charges for testing.

PCR testing for returning travellers – what changes are being made to these rules?

In recent days, the UK government announced that travellers returning to England from abroad will no longer have to take a PCR test – with this measure coming into place from the end of the month.

Instead, travellers will be required to instead take a lateral flow test.

This step has not come without controversy, and while Mr Drakeford slammed the decision makers in London, he conceded that Wales might not have a choice but to follow.

He said: “I’m very concerned at what we are hearing from the UK government about its plans to abandon PCR tests.

“We don’t have any detail from them, we don’t know how the lateral flow devices will be deployed in their place, and here are the reasons why I’m anxious about it.

“When you take a PCR test, the results get fed automatically into the patient’s record, and we are able here in Wales to check those results for new variants which may be emerging in other parts of the world.

“It is not clear to me at all how lateral flow tests can be used in the same way. There are an awful lot of unanswered questions in what the UK government is said to be proposing. Every one of them seem to be a risk that we are lowering the protections that we have, against the importation of new viruses that may be emerging in other parts of the world.

“It is very difficult for us not to follow what the UK government does in the area of international travel, because the vast bulk of people who make journeys overseas, who live in Wales, do so from ports and airports outside Wales. Our energies have been focused on trying to persuade the UK government not to erode the safeguards, that we think are properly in place.”

Can we expect to pay for PCR tests in future?

Another key question asked during the press briefing today, was the possibility that people may have to pay for PCR tests in the future.

And, while Mr Drakeford ruled it out for this coming winter, it remains on the table as a possibility in the future.

It comes as part of the plans to treat covid as a seasonal virus.

To that end, tests could be viewed in a similar manner to flu jabs.

They remain free to those on the front line, and those in a vulnerable bracket. Others who want this vaccine have to pay £13 for it – and a similar model could be rolled out.

Again, this is not on the cards until after the winter season, at least.

Mr Drakeford said: “No plans at all to charge for PCR tests over this winter.

"After the winter, you'll see in the plan that we're going to have to move into an era, as coronavirus becomes part of the way that we live our lives, as we manage with the measles or the flu, where mass testing of the sort we have today will play a less important part in the way we manage the virus.

"We will be reserving the test for the purposes for which they are most important.

"As far ahead as we have planned, there will be no charges for PCR tests in Wales."

If you value The National's political journalism, help grow our team of reporters by becoming a subscriber.