Free lateral flow tests 'to be scrapped as UK learns to live with Covid'

By Dave Burke

Free lateral flow tests could soon be scrapped for most of the public within weeks, reports claim.

Under plans reportedly being weighed up by officials, the tests could soon only be available in "high-risk" settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools.

Boris Johnson is said to be poised to announce the move as part of the Government's strategy for living with the virus.

The move would also see the NHS Test and Trace service scaled back, according to The Sunday Times.

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody forevermore.

"It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.”

Our sister title The Mirror has contacted the Department of Health for comment.

The claim comes days after the PM announced that from next week people who test positive on a lateral flow test will no longer be required to confirm their condition with a PCR test if they have no symptoms.

After the rule change on Tuesday, people who test positive with no symptoms - said to account for around 40% of people with Covid - will no longer need this follow-up PCR test.

They will still have to isolate for at least seven days, but only from the date of their positive lateral flow test.

A decision to scrap free lateral flow tests would happen at a time when Covid cases reach record levels, with nearly 1.3 million confirmed infections in the past week across the UK.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that one in 15 people had the virus in the final week of 2021 in England - with Wales and Scotland not far behind with one in 20 and Northern Ireland with one in 25.

Although the number of people being treated in hospital with Covid has risen to its highest level in months - the number requiring ventilation is at its lowest since October last year.

Scientists say increasing evidence shows that the Omicron variant causes less severe illness.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group, told Times Radio: “The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version.

"It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.

“We’re not quite there yet but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term.

"It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.”

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