Free Universal Covid testing will be massively scaled back from April as charges for testing kits are introduced.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that access to free lateral flow and PCR tests will be scrapped for the majority of people in England from 1 April.
The government said that spending £2 billion per month on free tests is “not an effective use of taxpayers’ money at this point”, and such high expenditure does not need to continue.
The change means that only certain groups will continue to be given free tests from April, but most people will have to pay.
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.
When do I have to pay for lateral flow tests?
From 1 April, rules on universal free Covid testing will change meaning most people will have to start paying for a test, even if they have symptoms.
Until then tests are still available to order for free via the government website, even if you do not have symptoms
It is also still possible to get a PCR test for free if you are displaying any of the three main symptoms of coronavirus. This includes a high temperature, a new continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.
Who will be eligible for free tests from April?
After 1 April, the government has confirmed that 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 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 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.
How much will Covid tests cost?
Anyone who needs a test from 1 April to confirm their symptoms will have to pay between £2 and £5 per individual lateral flow test, or around £20 for a pack of seven, government sources.
High street retailer Boots has said that customers will be able to purchase tests for £5.99 each online, or a pack of four for £17, with both options including delivery.
Customers will have an option to send their results to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to report a negative test.
The pharmacy said that a cheaper test costing £2.50 would be made available without the option to report results, but it is not clear whether these are considered valid by the UKHSA.
Mr Johnson said the government was “working with retailers to ensure everyone who wants to can buy a test” after the free provision ends.
Where can I order a Covid test?
You can order a PCR test to be sent to your home, or book an appointment at a walk-in centre if you have Covid symptoms, on the government website or by calling 119.
Lateral flow tests can also be ordered from the government website, or by calling 119.
To prevent people from stockpiling before the 1 April cut off, people will only be able to order testing packs (which contain seven lateral flows) on the NHS every three days, instead of every 24 hours.
These should be delivered to your home within three days, or you can arrange to pick them up from a collection point.
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