Covid test: free access to lateral flow and PCR tests could be scrapped - how to book and report your results

The UK could be following in the steps of Germany and France and end universal access to free Covid tests

Access to free Covid-19 tests could be ended due to the “huge costs to the taxpayer” according to senior ministers.

This is everything you need to know.

Why could free Covid tests be scrapped?

The Telegraph has reported that ministers believe that mass free Covid-19 tests must be ended due to huge taxpayer costs.

A Whitehall source reportedly said: “It’s agreed that universal access isn’t suitable or necessary given high vaccination levels.

“We now need to decide what the parameters should be that reasonably qualify access to free testing.”

The costs of the tests are significant, with one insider claiming it as the equivalent of 1p on income tax. There are additional fears that taxes would have to rise if the scheme were to continue as it is.

Access to free Covid-19 testing could be scrapped (Photo: Shutterstock)

Currently, everyone has access to an unlimited number of free lateral flow tests, with the public encouraged to test themselves twice a week even if they have no symptoms. Those with symptoms can also request a free PCR test.

Under the new system the tests would only be made available to those in high risk settings, such as care homes, hospitals and schools, as well as people with symptoms. The details of the new system are not yet agreed upon.

It is believed that the Treasury feels the case for scaling back access to free testing is due to the fact that 90 per cent of adults in the UK have had at least one of two doses of the vaccine.

How many people in the UK have been vaccinated?

According to Our World in Data, as of 7 October, the UK has administered 94.2 million doses, making 45.1 million people fully vaccinated.

This makes 67.1% of the population fully vaccinated.

More than 94 million doses of the vaccine has been administered across the UK (Photo: Hugh Hastings/Getty Images)

By country, the figures state:

  • England: 79 million doses given, 37.8 million fully vaccinated (67.5% of the population)
  • Scotland: 8.1 million doses given, 8.86 million fully vaccinated (70.7% of the population)
  • Wales: 4.62 million doses given, 2.23 million fully vaccinated (71.0% of the population)
  • Northern Ireland: 2.53 million doses given, 1.22 million fully vaccinated (64.5% of the population)

When will a decision be made?

The Treasury and Cabinet Office are in favour of changing the system soon, however the Health and Social Care Department and Number 10 are acting more cautiously, according to the Telegraph.

The question of free Covid-19 tests is being discussed in the spending review negotiations that is taking place between the Treasury and the Health and Social Care Department, with the announcements on all future departmental spending to be made in the Budget on 27 October.

It is not yet clear where Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands on the matter, but he is expected to have the final say on any changes made to the free mass testing system.

Are other countries ending free tests?

Other countries in Europe have also made moves to end universal free testing, including Germany and France.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “Since we can now offer vaccines comprehensively to every citizen in Germany, we will be ending the free Covid-19 tests for everyone effective on October 11.”

After 11 October, people will have to pay for their tests, with the exception of children, teenagers and people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

If the decision were to go ahead, the UK would not be the first country to end universal access to free Covid-19 testing (Photo: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)

French Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed in an interview with Les Echos newspaper that from 15 October, Covid-19 tests will no longer be free for all.

Castex said: “The tests will continue to be reimbursed for medical reasons, either without a prescription for those already vaccinated, or with a prescription for others.

“In concrete terms, if you have a fever or symptoms corresponding to Covid-19, your test will still be free.”

Castex added: “It is no longer legitimate to pay for convenience tests to excess at the expense of taxpayers.”

Tests are capped at €29 for an antigen test or €49 for a PCR test.

Greece also announced that it would be ending free testing for unvaccinated residents in a bid to boost vaccination uptake. The measures came into force on 13 September, with testing for vaccinated people still free.

Health Minister Vassilis Kikilas said: “These measures are not punitive.

“They are our duty to all those who went through 18 months of the pandemic carefully, those who lost their shops, jobs, had to work from home to protect themselves.”

How do I book a Covid test?

If you have any of the three Covid-19 symptoms, even if they’re mild, you should order a free PCR test as soon as possible.

The symptoms are:

  • A high temperature 
  • A new, continuous cough
  • A change or loss of your taste or smell 

You can order a PCR test kit to be sent to your home, or you can book an appointment at a walk in or drive through test site.

You can do this via the Government website. 

If you don’t have symptoms, you can order free rapid lateral flow tests. A single kit contains seven tests, and you can order them via the Government website.

You should take a lateral flow test twice a week.

How do I report my lateral flow test results?

You should report your lateral flow test results every time you use a test, regardless of the result, and as soon as possible after you’ve gotten your result.

You report your results on the Government website. Before you start, you’ll need the QR code or ID number on the test strip and a mobile number.

The Government says you should report your results because it helps to:

  • Reduce infection rates in your community 
  • Protect people at higher risk of infection
  • Prevent and reduce the spread of the virus 
  • Find out if you’re infected even if you don’t have symptoms 

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