Free Covid tests for all will end when latest wave is over

Health and care workers with symptoms will continue to be eligible for tests.

Hospital patients will be offered PCR tests in cases where it is thought necessary, such as before operations.

Free tests will also continue to be offered to the most vulnerable. Officials said those eligible for antiviral treatments to protect against Covid would also be able to access lateral flow tests if they had symptoms of the virus.

This includes patients with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell disease and those who have undergone chemotherapy in the past year.

Those 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, officials said.

Most visitors to care homes and carers of the most vulnerable will not be eligible for tests under the changes. Officials said a few visitors who provide personal care would remain eligible while rates are high.

‘Significant cost to taxpayer’

Health officials said free universal testing had “come at a significant cost to the taxpayer” with the testing, tracing and isolation budget costing over £15.7 billion in 2021-22.

They said this was necessary before the introduction of vaccines but that the population was now better protected than ever, enabling the country to begin to manage the virus like other respiratory infections.

Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, 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,” he added.

Updated guidance will advise people with symptoms of a respiratory infection, including Covid, and a high temperature or who feel unwell to try to stay at home and avoid contact with others until they feel well enough to resume normal activities and they no longer have a high temperature.

Anyone who takes a Covid test and is found to be positive will be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days.

Free parking for NHS staff working at hospitals in England will also end from Friday. The Department of Health and Social Care said that the perk was “temporary” and introduced in July 2020 “for the duration of the pandemic”.

Mr Javid tweeted: “On behalf of the Government, I would like to record my thanks to everyone who has worked tirelessly to keep people safe over the last two years and whose efforts have enabled us to move to the next stage of the Covid-19 response.”

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