Free Covid-19 testing due to end this week despite rising cases from new BA.2 variant
Covid-19 cases are rocketing just days before the Government intends to scrap free lateral flow tests for most people.
Numbers are thought to have risen by more than a million in just a week, possibly being driven by the new and more contagious BA.2 form of Omicron, with health officials estimating that as many as one in every 16 people currently has coronavirus.
But in the midst of the current surge are Government plans to significantly scale back England's mass testing programme from this Friday, after which it is thought only some health workers and some vulnerable patients will still have access to free of charge rapid lateral flow tests.
Anyone else who wishes to get confirmation that they have the virus or not, is expected to need to pay privately for a test from April 1.
However, despite the change being just a few days away, and in the face of growing case numbers in most districts, very few details have been released about exactly how the country's testing arrangements will work come the end of the week.
When the Government first announced plans to cut back the numbers of free lateral flow tests available to the public from April, ministers confirmed that some health care workers, care home residents and those who are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 would be among those who would still be entitled to free tests.
Although exactly how health care staff and patients will collect these tests and even where from, currently remains unclear, as does exactly how people will be identified as vulnerable.
There is also some confusion within the NHS as to which staff or job roles will still get free tests, says the NHS Confederation, which says it thinks some workers could be forced to pay after the end of this week.
Question marks also reportedly remain over the any future testing arrangements for visitors to care homes, people visiting particularly vulnerable hospital patients and school staff working with pupils with special needs or disabilities that make them more at risk of complications caused by Covid-19.
When asked this morning when further details about the April 1 change would be released, a spokesman for the UK Health Security Agency said the Department of Health and Social Care will issue any new information 'in due course'.
An estimated 200,000 children in England are currently said to be off school with coronavirus – which this weekend prompted education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to promise that more details about the end to free mas testing and how it would affect schools and teachers would be available this week.
But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, is among those questioning the plans.
He said: "Covid cases have been spiking again in many schools over the past week or so – in line with the rising numbers nationally. Removing free access to lateral flow tests at this point feels irresponsible.
“It will make tracking and controlling Covid almost impossible. There is a lot of anxiety from school leaders about what could happen once tests are unavailable.”
This week around 600,000 people will be invited for a spring booster, with NHS England saying that thousands and thousands of patients had already come forward for an additional coronavirus jab as cases climb.
In total, more than five million people over the age of 75 or who have particular underlying health conditions will be offered an additional jab in the coming weeks and months as part of efforts to protect the most vulnerable from the effects of Covid.