More than 300,000 people in England have signed a petition to keep lateral flow tests free ahead of them being scrapped on Friday.
Ministers last night announced only NHS workers, care home staff and vulnerable patients will be eligible for the free swabs from April 1, as part of the Government’s ‘learning to live with Covid’ strategy.
A change.org petition calling the decision ‘learning to die with Covid’ rather than returning the country to normal post-pandemic has received more than 335,000 signatories since it was launched.
The appeal — organised by a retired doctor — says the move will fall heaviest on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged within society.
School staff, immunosuppressed people and parents are among the signees. If the petition reaches 500,000, it will be one of the most signed on the website.
Alison Morrison, one of the signatories, said: ‘I work in a primary school and have Covid right now. Would you want me putting your children and in turn your family at risk?’
As part of the move to get England back to normal after the pandemic, workers with Covid symptoms will no longer need to take a test from Friday.
Anyone who feels unwell with symptoms such as a high temperature and a cough will be advised to stay at home.
The guidance, issued by Health Secretary Sajid Javid, is part of the Government’s plan to treat Covid like other respiratory illnesses.
More than 300,000 people in England have signed a petition keep lateral flow tests free ahead of No10’s decision to ditch them for almost everybody from Friday
Who will still get FREE Covid tests?
Free lateral flow tests will be scrapped for everyone except NHS workers, care home staff and vulnerable patients from Friday in England.
It will only continue in settings where infection can spread rapidly while prevalence is high.
FREE SYMPTOMATIC TESTING WILL STILL BE GIVEN TO:
- 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;
- People living or working in some high-risk settings. For example, staff in adult social care services such as homecare organisations and care homes.
But ditching tests as part of that plan has been met with harsh criticism from experts, as well as the public.
Many are worried it will lead to those who can’t afford tests avoiding them because of costs, potentially passing on the virus to vulnerable people.
Ms Morrison said: ‘It’s an awful disease to have. I need to test before I return to keep children safe.
‘Should I have to pay for that privilege. I’m a TA on just above minimum wage and no holiday pay.’
Danielle Harding, who is immunosupressed, said: ‘I feel let down, like we don’t matter.
‘We can’t assume everyone will think about our safety when they make decisions about how to live with Covid.’
Dr John Puntis, a retired consultant paediatrician and co-chair of campaign group Keep Our NHS public who launched the petition, said: ‘Both common sense and science dictate that now is not the time to scrap PCR test centres, free lateral flow tests, self-isolation or collection of coronavirus surveillance data.
‘To imagine that wishful thinking can end the pandemic is both delusional and dangerous, and puts many more lives at risk.
‘This is not “learning to live with Covid” but learning to die with it. As usual, the burden will fall heaviest on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged within society.’
Despite opposition in some quarters, Mr Javid has continued to push ahead with the plans.
People with symptoms and those who have tested positive are urged to wear a mask, avoid close contact with vulnerable people and swerve crowded areas if they must leave home.
But hospitals and care home patients and staff will still be able to request free Covid tests, as will those at risk of serious illness. Others must pay.
Most visitors to care homes, hospitals and prisons will no longer have to take a test. And free parking for NHS staff, introduced during the pandemic, is coming to an end tomorrow.
Sir Patrick Vallance admits UK needs a lockdown handbook for future pandemics
Officials are already drawing up a lockdown handbook for future pandemics, Sir Patrick Vallance revealed today.
The Government’s chief scientific adviser told MPs that experts are exploring what parts of Covid restrictions worked best in the UK and globally.
Speaking to MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Sir Patrick suggested harsh restrictions could play a part in outbreaks to come.
He said: ‘I do think it is now going to be incredibly important to look internationally and nationally to try to dissect which components of restrictions are the ones that were the most important.
‘The world should learn from this so there is an advice handbook for the future and also to take into account the different characteristics of viruses.’
Earlier, a member of No10’s Covid nudge unit hinted Britons are not changing their behaviours now despite rising cases and hospital rates because they are less scared.
Professor Ann John, who co-chairs SAGE’s behavioural subgroup, told MPs people are mixing more than when infections were at similar levels as Omicron surged in December.
Mr Javid said: ‘Thanks to our plan to tackle Covid we are leading the way in learning to live with the virus.
‘We have made enormous progress but will keep the ability to respond to future threats including potential variants.
‘Vaccines remain our best defence and we are now offering spring boosters to the elderly, care home residents and the most vulnerable.’
Although coronavirus infections have risen in recent weeks, more than 55 per cent of hospital patients who have tested positive do not have Covid as their primary diagnosis.
The Test and Trace programme cost taxpayers more than £15.7billion in 2021-22.
The guidance, which comes into effect on April 1, advises people with symptoms of a respiratory infection and a high temperature, or those who feel unwell, to stay at home and avoid contact with others until they feel better and their temperature returns to normal.
Anyone with a positive Covid test result will be advised to try to stay at home and avoid contact with others for five days when they are most infectious.
Children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home and avoid contact with other people where possible.
They can return to school, college or childcare when they no longer have a high temperature and are well enough.
Free symptomatic testing will be provided for patients in hospital, where a PCR test is required for their care and to provide access to treatment, as well as supporting clinical surveillance for new variants.
Testing will also be available for people who are eligible for community Covid treatments because they are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill.
This group will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home if they have symptoms and told how to reorder tests.
Those living or working in high-risk settings including care homes, hospices and prisons will receive free tests.
And people will be tested before being discharged from hospital into care homes, hospices, shelters and refuges.
‘Vaccines remain our best defence’
UK’s lateral flow shortage sees sales soar FIVE-FOLD in a week at High St pharmacists as Brits scramble to get free tests before they’re scrapped on Friday… so how much WILL chains sell them for?
Britain’s scramble for the last remaining free supplies of lateral flow tests has seen sales of the rapid devices soar five-fold in a week at High Street pharmacies.
LloydsPharmacy is already selling the Covid tests, despite free ones being available on the Government’s website until Friday.
But scores of Britons have complained about being unable to get hold of any kits through the official ordering channel over the past fortnight.
Struggles accessing the devices — which formed a major part of the UK’s Covid-fighting strategy — have allowed major retailers to cash in.
LloydsPharmacy told MailOnline sales in the week ending March 28 were 400 per cent up on the previous seven-day spell.
It also announced it was slashing the price of lateral flows, reducing the price of a pack of five rapid swabs by 20p to £9.29 — or £1.86 each — making it the cheapest on the market.
A single test sold on its own from the company will cost people £1.89, compared to £1.99 at rival Superdrug and £2 at Boots.
Meanwhile Boots is selling its five-packs for £9.80 and Superdrug is offering them for £9.79.
High street chains have been undercutting each other since February 23, just days after Boris Johnson announced mass public lateral flows would be abandoned on April 1.
Rapid tests will be rationed to hospital and care home patients and staff as part of the final stage of No10’s living with Covid strategy.
Experts have repeatedly described the move to end free testing for those no longer qualifying for them as ‘worrying’ amid rising cases.
Lateral flow tests will be rationed to the elderly and vulnerable people as part of the final stage of No10’s living with Covid strategy — leading to fears people have been stockpiling the remainder of the free swabs in the meantime. Users have been unable to order tests on the Government’s site today
High street pharmacists today continued their war of prices ahead of free lateral tests being scrapped from next week. Graphic shows: Different price options at Boots, Superdrug and LloydsPharmacy
LloydsPharmacy dropped its price for a pack of five rapid tests to £9.29 — costing £1.86 each. At the end of February, they were priced at £9.49 for the pack
Ahead of the move, a LloydsPharmacy spokesperson told MailOnline the company would be lowering its price for lateral flows slightly on previous plans.
They said: ‘From April 1 in line with the latest Government changes, lateral flow tests are no longer free across the UK.
‘LloydsPharmacy will continue to help keep the public safe and at the moment we offer lateral flow test kits in a selection of quantities to suit customer needs.
‘This includes single tests for just £1.89 or up to a pack of five for just £9.29 — £1.86 per test — available in store and online now at LloydsPharmacy.com.
‘You can find further information about our range of tests on our website, and up-to-date coronavirus information on the coronavirus page on the Government website.’
Boots has been offering its tests since the end of last month and Superdrug is also currently selling its tests online.
When the Omicron wave was collapsing in February, Boris Johnson announced that free testing would be scrapped from April.
The announcement was widely seen as a way to appease Tory backbenchers who at the time were threatening to hand in letters of no confidence in the PM following the Partygate scandal.
But in recent weeks the UK has seen a resurgence in Covid infections and hospital admissions, driven by the even more infectious BA.2 variant, which has led many experts to call for free tests to stay.
SAGE has previously warned ending the scheme, which cost up to £2bn a month, would leave the country in the dark to a fresh wave and said poor people will be hit hardest.
Experts told said pushing through with the move could leave some of the most vulnerable people in society at risk.
Professor Denis Kinane, an immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics, said: ‘I am concerned that the decision to end free tests from April 1 could leave some vulnerable groups at risk, particularly the immuno-suppressed.
‘This is worrying with the recent spike in case numbers and hospital admissions.’
Covid cases have been on the rise since the start of the month, following all restrictions being eased on Freedom Day on February 24.
Hospital admissions have also been increasing, jumping 16 per cent in a week to 2,380 on Tuesday, the latest date data is available for.
It was the highest daily total since the peak of the Omicron wave in January, with 2,386 recorded on January 10.
People trying to get tests have reported struggling to access them for weeks as the Government started rationing the kits ahead of the cut-off date amid fears people would stockpile them.
Professor Kinane added: ‘Recent stories about shortages of lateral flow tests shows demonstrate that large numbers of people still want to get tested to reassure themselves or protect their families.
‘Alongside this, the testing played a vital role in preventing transmission for those working in settings where they would come into contact with a large number of people.
‘Many sectors will be wondering if this will prevent more people from safely returning to their place of work as we begin to live with the virus.’