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Can you get a free Covid test from April?

Written by: Emma Lunn
Most people will have to pay for Covid tests from Friday – but there are a few exceptions.

Patient-facing NHS staff, hospice staff and some prison staff will continue to get free lateral flow tests even if they don’t have symptoms of the virus.

The end of free tests for all from 1 April is part of the government’s ‘living with Covid’ plan. But it says plans are in place to enable a rapid testing response should a new health threat emerge, such as a new variant of concern.

Who will get free tests?

Under the government’s plans, free symptomatic testing will be provided for patients in hospital, where a PCR test is required for their care.

People at a higher risk of getting seriously ill from Covid will be contacted directly and sent free 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 will also get free tests. These include staff and residents in care homes, patient-facing NHS workers, and those working and living in hospices. People will also be tested before being discharged from hospital into care homes and hospices.

There will also be free testing in prisons and places of detention, such as immigration removal centres, where infection needs to be identified quickly to minimise outbreaks.

However, most visitors to adult social care settings, and visitors to the NHS, prisons or places of detention will no longer be required to take a test.

Why are free tests ending?

According to the government, although Covid infections and hospitalisations have risen in recent weeks, more than half (55%) of those in hospital that have tested positive are not there with Covid as their primary diagnosis.

Free universal testing has come at a significant cost to the taxpayer, with the testing, tracing and isolation budget costing more than £15.7bn in 2021-22. This was necessary due to the severe risk posed by Covid when the population did not have a high level of protection.

But ministers say that thanks to the success of the vaccination programme and access to antivirals, alongside natural immunity and increased scientific and public understanding about how to manage risk, the population now has much stronger protection against the virus.

From 1 April, updated guidance will advise people with symptoms of a respiratory infection, including Covid-19, and a high temperature or who feel unwell, to “try stay at home and avoid contact with other people”, until they feel well enough to resume normal activities and they no longer have a high temperature. This includes schoolchildren. Those who test positive for Covid should “try to stay home for five days”.

The government says advice will be provided for individuals who need to leave their home when they have symptoms or have tested positive, including avoiding close contact with people with a weakened immune system, wearing a face covering and avoiding crowded places.

Sajid Javid, secretary of state for health and social care, 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 – please come forward to protect yourself, your family, and your community.”

Where can I buy a Covid test?

You can buy lateral flow tests from a chemist or online.

Lloyds Pharmacy is selling lateral flow tests for £1.89 each but its website is out of stock at the moment.

Boots is selling a single lateral flow test for £2, two tests for £3.95, four for £7.90 or 25 for £49.

Most PCR tests for sale are aimed at travellers going to destinations where they need to take a pre-arrival test. At Boots, one test costs £62, two costs £117 and four tests £234.

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