Free Covid testing has ended for millions of people in England as the Health Secretary inists people must now “learn to live with Covid”.
Sajid Javid said testing resources will now be focused on people who need it most, including some hospital patients and those at a high risk of severe Covid.
The majority of people now need to shop on the high street for paid-for tests if they want them, as charges for PCR and lateral flow tests have been introduced.
Mr Javid said: “We are one of the most open and free countries in the world now, and that’s because of decisions that we’ve taken as a country… and it is right also as we learn to live with Covid that we withdraw free testing – universally… if it’s not needed any more, but we focus those resources on the people that need it most. And that’s what we’re doing.”
Free testing will continue until the end of April in Scotland, while those in Wales will still have access to tests until the end of June. In Northern Ireland, a review of future Covid testing arrangements is still ongoing.
But the government has announced that a small number of groups will continue to have access to tests for free and said in the event a new Covid variant of concern emerges, testing could be expanded to once again.
Here’s what you need to know about testing changes across the UK.
What are the testing rules in England?
Anyone who needs a test will have to pay between £2 and £5 per individual lateral flow test from this date, or around £20 for a pack of seven.
High street pharmacies are charging about £2 per test and the government website includes a list of private test providers.
Boots is selling self testing kits online from £3.95 each, although customers will not be provided with a certificate and results will not be verified. A verified lateral flow test with certificate is priced at £14.99, or £17 for a pack of four.
Who is still eligible for free tests?
From 1 April, the government has confirmed free symptomatic testing will continue to be provided for the following groups:
- Patients in hospital, where a PCR test is required for their care and to provide access to treatments and to support ongoing clinical surveillance for new variants
- People who are eligible for community Covid treatments because they are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from coronavirus. People in this group will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms as well as being told how to reorder tests
- People living or working in some high-risk settings, including staff in adult social care services, residents in care homes and extra care and supported living services, NHS workers and those working and living in hospices, and prisons and places of detention (including immigration removal centres). People will also be tested before being discharged from hospital into care homes, hospices.
Asymptomatic lateral flow testing will also continue from April in some high-risk settings where infection can spread rapidly while prevalence is high. This includes:
- Patient-facing staff in the NHS and NHS-commissioned Independent Healthcare Providers
- Staff in hospices and adult social care services, such as homecare organisations and care homes
- A small number of care home visitors who provide personal care
- Staff in some prisons and places of detention
- Staff in high risk domestic abuse refuges and homelessness settings
Testing will also be provided for residential SEND, care home staff and residents during an outbreak and for care home residents upon admission. This includes some staff in prisons and immigration removal centres.
From 1 April onwards, updated guidance recommends that anyone with symptoms of a respiratory infection, including Covid, and a high temperature or who feel unwell, stay at home and avoid contact with others until symptoms pass. This includes school children and young people.
Dame Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “As we learn to live with Covid, we are focusing our testing provision on those at higher risk of serious outcomes from the virus, while encouraging people to keep following simple steps to help keep themselves and others safe.
“The pandemic is not over and how the virus will develop over time remains uncertain. Covid still poses a real risk to many of us, particularly with case rates and hospitalisations on the rise.
“That is why it is sensible to wear a mask in enclosed spaces, keep indoor spaces ventilated and stay away from others if you have any symptoms of a respiratory illness, including Covid.”
When will free testing end in Scotland?
Covid testing will remain free in Scotland under certain circumstances until the end April.
The Scottish Government has said that from 18 April, free lateral flow tests will no longer be available to the general population.
However, they will continue to be free to those people who are asked to take tests, such as health and care workers, patients, or those visiting vulnerable people in care homes or hospitals.
Until 30 April, people with Covid symptoms should self-isolate and get a PCR test, and vaccinated close contacts of positive cases should do daily lateral flow tests for seven days.
From 1 May, people with Covid symptoms will not need to test, physical testing sites will close and contact tracing will end.
When will free testing end in Wales?
Free Covid testing will continue in some capacity in Wales until the end of June, with a few changes being made before then.
PCR tests will no longer be freely available and lateral flow tests will only be available to those who have coronavirus symptoms.
Anyone who tests positive for Covid is advised to self-isolate and contact tracing will continue.
After June, free lateral flow tests will not be available, contact tracing and support payments will end, and self-isolation guidance will be updated to advise people who are ill to stay at home.
When will free testing end in Northern Ireland?
In Northern Ireland, a review of future Covid testing arrangements is still ongoing.
The country has said that no changes to the current testing system will be made until this review is finished.