A MAJOR change to the Covid rulebook will come into force this week.
It will affect how people access testing, which has been free for the past two years.
Brits are on the cusp of another Covid rule change in the next few daysCredit: Getty
From April 1, free Covid testing will no longer be offered by the Government to people in England, with the rest of the UK following suit.
Instead, the public will have to pay if they want to be sure if they have the bug or not.
It’s part of Boris Johnson’s plan to “live with Covid” and move the nation forward without self isolation and restrictions.
The Government website says: “The Test & Trace programme cost £15.7 billion in 2021/22.
“With Omicron now the dominant variant and less severe, levels of high immunity across the country and a range of strategies in place including vaccines… the value for taxpayers’ money is now less clear.
“Free testing should rightly be focused on at-risk groups.”
People will no longer be able to get a free PCR test on the NHS, unless they are considered high risk.
And lateral flow tests, which are less accurate but can be done at home in less than 30 minutes, will no longer be available for free.
The kits have become crucial for households to diagnose Covid fast, including when someone is not showing symptoms of the virus.
Again, only a small number of at-risk groups will be able to get free rapid test boxes (described below).
With Covid infection rates high, people in England have been scrambling to get their hands on tests before the new rule comes into effect.
However, they are being discouraged to order them unless they are high-risk.
Moving the order process forward comes to a dead end for many, as the website says there are no boxes available.
There has been confusion within the NHS as to whether tests will still be free for staff.
People who can continue to get free rapid tests
The Government’s lateral flow test portal now says people still need Covid tests if they work in the NHS, are at higher risk of Covid or visit high-risk people.
It directs people to a list of people “at higher risk” on the NHS website.
These includes people with conditions like:
- long-term lung conditions (such as severe asthma, COPD, bronchiectasis and cystic fibrosis)
- long-term conditions affecting the heart or blood vessels (such as congenital heart disease, heart failure and peripheral arterial disease)
- long-term kidney disease
- long-term liver conditions (such as cirrhosis and hepatitis)
- conditions affecting the brain or nerves (such as dementia, Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, cerebral palsy or stroke)
- severe or multiple learning disabilities
- Down’s syndrome
- problems with the spleen or the spleen has been removed (splenectomy)
- severe obesity (a BMI of 40 or above)
- severe mental conditions (such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder)
- a condition or treatment that makes you more likely to get infections
- a condition your doctor advises puts you at high risk
People with weakened immune systems include those who had or have:
- a blood cancer (such as leukaemia or lymphoma)
- a weakened immune system due to a treatment (such as steroid medicine, biological therapy, chemotherapy or radiotherapy)
- an organ or bone marrow transplant
- a condition that means you have a very high risk of getting infections
- a condition or treatment your specialist advises makes you eligible for a 3rd dose
Some children and young people aged 5 to 17 are considered at high risk if either:
- they live with someone who has a weakened immune system (such as someone who has HIV, has had a transplant or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis)
- they have a condition that means they’re at high risk of getting seriously ill from Covid-19
Conditions that mean they may be at high risk include:
- a severe problem with the brain or nerves, such as cerebral palsy
- Down’s syndrome
- severe or multiple learning disabilities (or they’re on the learning disability register)
- a condition that means they’re more likely to get infections (such as some genetic conditions or types of cancer)
The NHS Confederation said that workers may be forced to fork out about £50 a month for tests if they have to pay themselves, as it called for clarity over the issue.
The Department of Health and Social Care said that more details would be set out “shortly”.
It comes as a Covid spreads rapidly while hay fever starts – with the two conditions causing similar symptoms.
If you think you have Covid, you should try and get a test, with high street stores selling one swab for around £1.99.
Although enforced self-isolation has been scrapped, you are encouraged to stay at home until you feel better and test negative.
Meanwhile, workers may now get less cash to boost their income if they are off sick.
Sick pay rules that were introduced during the pandemic have now been rolled back.
Statutory sick pay (SSP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) are two of the main benefits you could get if you’re ill.
The rules for accessing SSP were adjusted during the Covid outbreak to support hard-up Brits.
If you were self-isolating or sick from Covid you were able to get SSP from day one instead of after three days.
However, the SSP rules returned to normal last week, and workers will have to wait until day four to receive it.
The temporary rule change also applied to ESA, which you can claim if an illness or disability is affecting your ability to work.
Claimants will face a seven day wait before being able to get ESA, after the government had allowed people to access it from day one during the Covid outbreak.
When will free Covid testing end outside of England?
From March 28 the availability of free PCR tests for the public will end and be replaced with lateral flow tests, which will be available until June.
People without symptoms continue to be advised to test twice weekly, while close contacts of a positive case should test daily for seven days, and those with symptoms should get a PCR test.
But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said most testing will stop at the end of April. The general public will be encouraged to stay at home if they feel unwell.
But those who are eligible for anti-viral treatments will continue to be able to access testing – in the community and in hospital settings.
Northern Ireland has not yet laid out plans.