The majority of people who want to be tested for COVID-19 will have to fork out for their own lateral flow tests from today under new plans put forward by ministers.
The government has announced who will be eligible for free tests as free universal testing in England comes to an end.
People were discouraged from ordering packs of lateral flow tests (LFTs) from the government website in a last-minute scramble to get hold of them by 1 April.
LFTs available in UK pharmacies for less than £2
For those wondering how to get hold of lateral flow tests after Friday, the UK’s leading pharmacy chains are all selling them in-store and on their websites.
Lloyds Pharmacy is selling lateral flow test kits in a selection of quantities to suit customer needs, including single tests for just £1.89 or up to a pack of five for £9.29 (£1.86 per test), available in-store and online.
The chain is also offering a range of PCR and lateral flow in-store and at-home testing services starting from £12.99.
PCR testing services provide results within 24 to 36 hours, while lateral flow test services can provide results within 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, Boots Pharmacy is offering lateral flow test kits in more than 400 of its stores and online – from £2 for one single test and £9.80 for a pack of five.
Superdrug Pharmacy confirmed to Sky News that it has “widespread availability” of LFTs available in-store and online, with a single test priced at £1.99 and a pack of five costing £9.79.
From Friday, Tesco Pharmacy will be selling LFTs in 1,500 Tesco stores across the UK, starting at £2. Those living in London will also be able to purchase these online, with a wider online UK rollout to follow from May onwards.
And Morrisons Pharmacy is selling single lateral flow tests for £1.75 in-store.
Will I have to legally take a lateral flow test if I have COVID symptoms?
No. There is no law that states people must be tested for coronavirus, however, some employers might want to bring in testing as part of their workplace policy as infections are still high as a precautionary measure.
Employers who want to test employees for COVID who are not displaying symptoms will need to source and pay for the tests privately.
The government is now urging people in England who have a cough or cold to “stay home and avoid contact with other people” under new COVID guidance which will be issued on 1 April.
Those who test positive or have COVID symptoms and need to leave home will be urged to wear masks, avoid crowded places and stay away from people with weakened immune systems.
The legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test in England ended on 24 February.
Forming part of the government’s Living with COVID plans, the latest advice has been updated to include information on who will still be eligible for free COVID-19 tests.
Free tests will still be available to some NHS, social care and hospice staff without symptoms of COVID when rates of the virus are high.
What about testing in schools?
Schools and colleges across England will stop regular lateral flow testing.
But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said more details on LFTs will soon be set out, and did not rule out more testing in schools due to high infection rates.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show: “We will say a bit more about testing on 1 April of course as to what the policy is.”
He said there were “around 200,000” children currently off school due to COVID.
“It has ticked up a little bit because infection rates are high but if we have not broken, we have weakened the link between infection rates and severe infection and hospitalisation because of the vaccination,” he said.
The end of free universal tests comes despite infections and hospital admissions rising in recent weeks, but the government said more than 55% of those in hospital that have tested positive have not been admitted with COVID-19 as their primary diagnosis.
The government said free universal testing, tracing, and isolation funding has come “at a significant cost to the taxpayer”, costing more than £15.7bn between 2021 and 2022.
It added that the vaccination programme and access to antivirals, alongside natural immunity and increased scientific and public understanding about how to manage risk, means the population now has much stronger protection against COVID “than at any other point in the pandemic”.
People scrambling to order the last available lateral flow tests are being discouraged from ordering packs when they try to access them online.