Free universal Covid testing is set to be massively scaled back under England’s ‘living with Covid’ plan.
The plans include limiting access to free lateral flow and PCR tests to certain groups, with the rest of the general public having to pay for testing kits from April.
The Prime Minister said the scrapping of free testing is down to the high levels of immunity against coronavirus and as Omicron is less severe, testing on the scale that the country has been doing “is now much less valuable in preventing serious illness”.
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 will free Covid tests be scrapped?
From 1 April, free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will end for the general public in England.
Remaining symptomatic testing will instead be focused on those who are most at risk of severe illness from Covid.
Mr Johnson said that the free testing programme cost £2 billion in January alone and so it must be scaled back with resources prioritised for the most vulnerable.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) will maintain an appropriate level of lab infrastructure to be able to dial back up PCR testing, should this be needed, and will also maintain a stockpile of lateral flow tests for a surge in usage if required.
Who will continue to get free tests?
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?
It is expected that anyone who needs a test from 1 April will have to pay between £2 and £5 for individual lateral flow tests, or around £20 for a pack of seven, according to government sources.
The PM said the government is working with retailers to ensure the public will always be able to buy a test if they want one after the free provision ends.
To prevent people from stockpiling before the 1 April cut off, people will only be able to order a box of tests on the NHS every three days, instead of every 24 hours.
The Living with Covid plan states: “UKHSA continues to have good stock levels and will manage these to provide flexibility in future.
“Ahead of the end of free universal testing in England, it will be necessary for UKHSA to cap the number of tests distributed each day to manage demand.
“Given that advice to test has and continues to reduce, the government urges people only to order what they need.”
Where can I buy lateral flow tests?
You can currently order a lateral flow test online from a government-approved provider. A single lateral flow test is currently £5.99 at Boots, available here
(The below all meet the legal requirements to clear you for those destinations that require an LFT test for entry)
You can order a lateral flow test online from:
Where can I buy home PCR tests?
The market is flooded for home testing kits, and they are not all created equal. The following listed are UK government approved companies that our testers have had positive experiences with.
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