Free COVID lateral flow tests 'to come to an end by July'

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A Covid-19 rapid antigen test (lateral flow test) showing a negative result. Picture date: Tuesday January 18, 2022.
A COVID-19 rapid antigen test, or lateral flow test, showing a negative result. (PA)

Health officials are reportedly set to bring an end to free COVID lateral flow tests this summer.

An exact date for the end of the free tests has not been confirmed by the government, though a new report says it could happen by the end of June.

The tests have been freely available to order online or pick up from local pharmacies since April.

Currently people in the UK are urged to take two lateral flow tests a week, or to take one before socialising.

Anyone who has tested positive for COVID can come out of isolation if they take a negative lateral flow on days five and six.

Watch: What is a rapid lateral flow test?

Individuals and businesses are expected to take on the cost, with sources suggesting a box of seven tests will cost £30.

According to the Reuters news agency, health officials are aiming to be ready to start charging Britons for COVID-19 tests at the end of June.

Read more: What are the different COVID rules in place across the UK?

A document seen by Reuters, which was shared between health agencies, shows that the timetable for the move has been pushed back from earlier in the year because of the arrival of the Omicron variant.

That date could move again if the UK faces a virus "curve ball", such as another variant, which would mean the plans would again be postponed.

The document says officials are now working on the premise that an online ordering system should be ready at the end of June to direct most people, excluding key workers and some others, to providers of paid-for LFDs in what is described as a "ramp down of the Universal Testing Offer".

A spokesperson for the PM said: "Lateral flow access remains free to use and we continue to encourage people to access them.

"As you’ll know in our autumn and winter plan which we published last year we were clear that at a later stage that governments as our response to the virus further evolves universal free provision of things like lateral flow tests will end.”

Boxes of NHS Covid-19 rapid antigen test (lateral flow self test) kits. Picture date: Tuesday January 18, 2022.
Currently boxes of seven tests can currently be ordered free of charge. (PA)

Figures have shown that between 30 December and 5 January, more than eight million lateral flows were conducted, the highest weekly figure on record.

Pressed on the decision to end free tests, a government spokesperson said: "We will continue to provide free tests as long as necessary. It is one of the most important lines of defence, alongside our vaccines programme.

"With cases remaining high, we continue to process millions of tests a day – more than any European country – providing a free LFD [lateral flow device] to anybody who needs one."

It comes after education secretary Nadhim Zahawi's claimed earlier this week that the tests would remain free.

He said he was "puzzled" by reports suggesting their universal availability would be limited.

Watch: Why are millions of people not yet vaccinated against coronavirus?

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