Who will still be able to have free Covid testing after 1 April?

Universal free Covid tests are coming to an end in England. Credit: PA

The provision of universal free tests in England is ending, after Boris Johnson announced his plan for living with Covid, as the pandemic reaches endemic levels.

From 1 April, those not classed as vulnerable will have to pay for a lateral flow test as free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will end for the general public in England.

The announcement led to a surge in demand on the free lateral flow tests and they are currently not available to order from the government website.

Mr Johnson said people should “exercise personal responsibility” when they have symptoms, but critics have warned the public could be left “flying blind” on Covid if left without free testing provision.

We explain everything you need to know as free Covid tests for all come to an end.

Why is free testing coming to an end?

The short answer? Money.

Explaining his decision to end the provision, the PM said testing had become "less valuable in preventing serious illness" because the dominant Covid variant - Omicron - is less severe.

But the financial impact of testing on the UK is the reason the prime minister wants to stop providing it for free.

Universal free testing for almost two years has come at an astronomical cost to the taxpayer - the testing regime had a bigger budget than the Home Office last year and it cost £2 billion in January alone.

The Department of Health and Social Care said testing has come at a “significant cost” to the taxpayer, with the testing, tracing and isolation budget costing more than £15.7 billion in 2021/22.

As such, Mr Johnson said "we must scale back and prioritise our resources for the most vulnerable".

Who can get a free test after 1 April?

Free tests will still be available for some people in England but access to them will be very limited.

Limited symptomatic testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups, the government said, however it has not yet set out exactly who would be eligible.

It suggested people aged 80 and above are likely to be in that group.

Free symptomatic testing will also remain available to NHS and social care staff, for example people who work in care homes.

Will care home visitors get free tests?

No. The government says free coronavirus tests will only be available for symptomatic NHS and social care staff, as well as people most vulnerable to Covid.

What if I have symptoms after 1 April?

If someone suspects they have Covid with mild symptoms and wants to check after the free provision ends, they will have to pay for a test.

If someone has severe symptoms they'll be able to go to A&E at a hospital and be tested for free.

So, where could I get a test?

Most people will now need to shop on the high street for paid-for tests if they want them.

They can also be bought online. Prices start at around £2 a test, if you buy a pack.

It is also possible to be tested at sites. For example, at Boots customers can pay £30 for a lateral flow test or £79 for a PCR test.

What about Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

In Wales, free testing ends on 31 March unless you are symptomatic.

In Scotland, guidance for people to test twice weekly will end from April 18.

Advice to take a PCR test if you have symptoms, as well as using a lateral flow daily for seven days after a positive test, will be scrapped at the end of April, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

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PCR testing for most people with Covid-19 symptoms will stop in Northern Ireland from April 22.

Health Minister Robin Swann said a “more targeted approach” to testing will be introduced on a phased basis, with the focus on supporting and protecting those at highest risk of serious illness.

He added that testing will continue to be available for those eligible for Covid treatments.

Under the new policy, PCR testing will cease for most people with symptoms from April 22, although free lateral flow tests will continue to be available to the public to use should they develop symptoms.

How much will lateral flow tests cost?

The government says it is working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.

They are expected to cost between £2 and £5 for an individual test and around £20 for a pack of seven.

It is expected the price will be severely reduced from when they were required for international travel, at which time LFTs cost £15 on average.

Boots has already started selling lateral flow coronavirus tests online for £5.99 a piece, with a pack of four costing £17.

Customers are able to buy a pack of four for £17 or one test for £5.99, with delivery included, until the free provision of tests ends on April 1.

People will be able to buy them in-store for £12 for a pack of five or £2.50 each after 1 April.

What do I do if I get Covid?

People who have a positive Covid-19 test in England will be advised to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, which is when they are most infectious.

Those who are positive, or have symptoms, and need to leave home will be urged to wear masks, avoid crowded places and stay away from people with weakened immune systems.

What about if I feel generally unwell and I’m not sure if it’s Covid?

The new advice is that people should try and stay at home until they feel better.

Those who have a symptoms of a respiratory illness such as a high temperature or “who feel unwell” are being encouraged to stay home until they feel well enough to resume normal activities or when their temperature has subsided, the Department said on Tuesday.

What about children going to school?

The government is going to advise that children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should “stay at home and avoid contact with other people, where they can” and that “they can go back to school, college or childcare when they no longer have a high temperature, and they are well enough to attend”.

But don’t we need tests to monitor new variants?

Yes, but probably not at the current level of testing.

The Office for National Statistics’ flagship Covid-19 Infection Survey is to continue for the next year – albeit at a reduced level. And other infection monitoring studies will also continue.

What if there is a sudden wave of a new variant that is more deadly?

Ministers have reserved the right to stand up testing capacity again in the event of a new variant, this includes keeping a stockpile of lateral flow tests.