Do I still need a PCR test? Changes to free Covid testing explained - and when £100 charge will be brought in

Boris Johnson is reportedly planning to end free PCR tests within weeks as part of his “living with Covid” plan
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Free PCR tests will reportedly be axed within weeks as part of the Prime Minister’s long-term “living with Covid” plan.

Boris Johnson is drawing up plans to make the public pay £100 if they want a PCR test as the Treasury pushes to save billions of pounds by ending free Covid testing.

Free PCR tests could be scrapped ‘within weeks’ (Photo: Getty Images)Free PCR tests could be scrapped ‘within weeks’ (Photo: Getty Images)
Free PCR tests could be scrapped ‘within weeks’ (Photo: Getty Images)

It is expected that tests will continue to remain free for vulnerable people and those in hospital.

The government is understood to be considering various options for a new system this week before making a final decision, reports say.

When should I get a PCR test?

People are advised to get a PCR test if they have symptoms of coronavirus, or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

The NHS recommends getting a PCR if you have any of the following:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

This advice is expected to be dropped as the Prime Minister is understood to be keen to scrap all remaining Covid restrictions by the end of February, including the requirement to self-isolate.

A government insider told The Sun that PCR tests are expensive and are now needed less thanks to widely available lateral flow tests which can cover the need.

However, there is concern among scientists that it may be too soon to ask people to pay for their own PCR tests, which can cost up to £100.

The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) wants the government to continue providing free tests until at least the start of April.

A source told The Guardian that the government intends to go ahead with plans to axe free PCR tests and would also close walk-in testing centres, meaning only home delivery options would be available.

It is also expected that advice for workers to take regular lateral flow tests regularly will also be dropped later this month.

Other plans may also see the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Covid monitoring programme scaled back, which tests a sample of the population each week to see how widespread the virus is.

When will the living with Covid plan be announced?

Boris Johnson is due to present his ‘living with Covid’ plan next week when Parliament returns from a short recess on 21 February.

The PM is keen to remove all remaining legal restrictions if “encouraging trends” in the data continue.

This would include the removal of the requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus, which was due to expire on 24 March but is now likely to be lifted a month earlier than planned.

Mr Johnson said earlier this month: “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.

“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”

The PM’s official spokesman clarified that No 10 would not recommend people go to work if they test positive for coronavirus, with businesses set to be given a “wide range of guidance” on how to treat employees following the removal of the self-isolation requirement.

He said: “What we would simply be doing is removing the domestic regulations which relate to isolation.

“But obviously in the same way that someone with flu, we wouldn’t recommend they go to work, we would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.”

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