The majority of the UK has seen a rise in Covid infections this month but cases are still well below levels reached earlier this year.
In England, infections are estimated to have climbed above one million for the first time since the end of October, and Scotland and Wales have also seen an increase.
Health experts believe the spike in cases is a result of people mixing more indoors, coupled with the fact that other winter viruses like flu are also circulating more widely.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show an estimated 1.3 million people in private households across the UK tested positive for Covid in the week to 5 December - up 16% from 1.1 million people in the previous week.
Case numbers were particularly high in England with infection rising for the third week in a row. The ONS said the equivalent of one in 50 people in England had the virus in the week to 5 December, up from one in 60 the week before.
Infection rates in England are highest among 25 to 34 year-olds, with 2.9% likely to have the virus – the equivalent of one in 35. The ONS added that rates are estimated to be rising among people aged 25 to 34, 35 to 49 and 50 to 69.
Infection levels across the UK as a whole are still well below the levels during the main waves of Covid earlier this year, when the total peaked at almost four million in July and just under five million in March.
The rising case numbers come just ahead of Christmas when people will likely be mixing even more freely indoors as they visit family and friends over the festive period.
If you have been feeling unwell or suspect you may have some symptoms of Covid, you may still be eligible to get a free NHS lateral flow test. Here’s what you need to know about testing across the UK and where you can buy them.
Where can I get a Covid test?
Covid tests are no longer free for most people, but rapid lateral flow tests are available to buy from some pharmacies and retailers, such as Boots and Lloyds, in person or online.
Boots is selling individual tests online for £2 each, or £3.95 for a pack of two. If you need a test for travel purposes, you should note that these tests do not provide a certificate to verify the results, so they are not suitable for travel abroad. A verified lateral flow test with certificate is priced at £14.99, or £17 for a pack of four.
Superdrug is selling a single lateral flow test for £1.95 online, or £5.79 for a pack of three. Lloyds pharmacy also offers lateral flow test kits in various pack sizes, including single tests for just £1.89 or up to a pack of ten for £17 (£1.70 per test).
Who can still get Covid tests for free?
Most people in the UK can no longer get free PCR or lateral flow tests, but a few groups of people are still eligible, including the most vulnerable and frontline NHS staff. In England, you can still get lateral flow tests for free from the NHS if:
- you have a health condition which means you’re eligible for Covid treatments
- you are going into hospital
- you work in the NHS or in adult social care
You can also get free NHS tests if you work in care homes, domiciliary care, extra care and supported living services, adult day care centres or hospices. If you work in the NHS or in adult social care, you are eligible for free tests if you are:
- NHS patient-facing staff
- staff who deliver NHS services through an independent healthcare provider, and have direct contact with NHS patients
- a social worker
- a personal assistant
- a Shared Lives carer
- a Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspector
NHS kits can be sent to your home for free if you are eligible and can be ordered via the government website, or by calling 119.
Most people in Scotland no longer need to test for coronavirus, but you can still access testing if:
- you have a health condition which means you are eligible for new coronavirus treatments
- you are applying for the self-isolation support grant
- you work in NHS health or social care settings and have symptoms
If you are a health and social care worker, you should access testing through your organisation if you have symptoms. If you have received a positive test result and have been self-isolating, you do not need to continue with any further testing unless you have been advised to do so by a health professional. The Scottish government says you do not need to have a negative test result to end self-isolation and should instead follow the stay at home advice.
In Wales, you can order free tests if a doctor or specialist has said you are eligible for new Covid treatments, or your GP or healthcare professional asks you to take a test. Test are available to order online for home delivery via the government website or by calling 119.
In Northern Ireland, it is no longer recommended that you take a lateral flow test if you do not have Covid symptoms. If you do not have symptoms, you can only order lateral flow tests if:
- you may be eligible for Covid treatments and need lateral flow tests in case you become symptomatic
- you work in health or social care and you have Covid symptoms
- you are a carer who provides close personal care for someone who is at higher risk if they contract Covid and you have Covid symptoms
- your GP or a healthcare professional asks you to take a test