Free Covid lateral flow tests under review amid reports they could be phased out

Ministers are said to be going ahead with plans to start winding down Covid testing. Credit: PA

The government has said it is keeping its provision of free Covid lateral flow tests under review amid reports free testing could begin to be phased out.

The winding down of free Covid testing and the scrapping of the contact tracing system will be key pillars in the government's 'living with Covid strategy' due to be unveiled next Monday, the Guardian reports.

It has been reported that free lateral flow tests may be limited to older age groups from March 31, even though people with symptoms are expected to still be advised to take a test.

The decision is said to be partly driven by the Treasury wanting to significantly reduce Covid spending from an estimated annual £15bn. It is unclear whether the changes will apply to only England or the whole of the UK.

The government have refused to confirm the reports, however, saying that the provision of free testing is being kept under review as the response to the virus changes.

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“No decisions have been made on the provision of free testing," a government spokesperson said in a statement.

"Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them. “Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day to day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

From Monday, the government is also expected to stop support payments worth £500 to £750 for those isolating, as well as routine contact tracing.

From 31 March, ministers are also poised to scrap free PCR testing for people with symptoms, making exceptions for those in high-risk settings and for the most vulnerable, according to the Guardian.

The reports come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he plans to remove all remaining coronavirus restrictions in England a month early.

The health department will decide on a "living with Covid strategy" which will be published next week. Credit: PA

Covid restrictions had been due to expire on March 24, but the prime minister told MPs last week that he expects they can end a month sooner if the data continues to be encouraging.

It means in a week England could be returned to levels of freedom enjoyed before the pandemic, for the first time since restrictions were brought in almost two years ago.

He said he would present the government's "living with covid" strategy when the Commons returns from its recess on February 21, and end the last domestic restrictions including the legal duty for cases to self-isolate "a full month early".