The government has changed its guide for people in the UK trying to order free lateral flow tests more than a week earlier than planned to deter the public from competing with risk groups for limited supplies.
According to the government’s “living with Covid” plan, the delivery of free rapid tests to people in England was to cease on 1 April. However, people who tried to order lateral flow tests from the official ordering platform from Monday night were informed that most people no longer needed to test regularly.
“Most tests are now required for people at higher risk in the UK,” read the updated guide, adding that they “without Covid-19 symptoms no longer need to take rapid lateral flow tests”.
More than 590,000 people tested positive for Covid across the UK in the week to March 22, a 20 per cent increase on the week before. Scotland hit a record 2,221 Covid patients on 21 March.
About 12,247 Covid patients were hospitalized in the UK in the week to March 19, an increase of 23 per cent on a week earlier. However, almost three-fifths of Covid-positive patients in English hospitals were not primarily treated for the disease.
The government’s website announcement said the recommendations were put in place “to ensure tests are available to people who need them most”, including NHS workers, vulnerable people and those visiting high-risk environments.
A health ministry official said the guidelines were changed early “to manage demand” and to prevent a “free for all” as people try to grab kits before comprehensive free tests run at the end of the month.
Another health official said the general public could still order tests, but added that supply limits were designed to encourage the vulnerable to “ask whether they need a test” or “instead allow them in. [at-risk] groups to prioritize them.
The plan to cut back on offering free, universal testing in the UK from early April has sparked criticism from experts who warn it will make the pandemic harder to monitor and accelerate the spread of the virus.
The UK is currently in the grip of a new outbreak of infections, prompted by declining behavioral caution and the proliferation of the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 variant, which is about 30 percent more transmissible than the original Omicron.
Health chiefs on Tuesday called for clarity on whether NHS England staff will still be able to access free, quick tests from next month. So far, only free tests have been promised to the social educators.
“In the face of a cost-of-living crisis, many employees simply will not be able to afford to purchase their tests on a regular basis,” said Matthew Taylor, CEO of the NHS Confederation.
The UK Health Security Agency said: “As set out in the plan to live with Covid, free tests from April 1 will only be available to certain groups at greatest risk for the virus. In preparation for this change, the gov.uk home booking channel is asking users to only order test kits if you are eligible for new Covid-19 treatments, work or volunteer in high-risk environments or support people at higher risk from Covid-19. “
Separately, on Wednesday, the House of Commons’ public accounting committee found that the UK government “was unprepared for a pandemic like Covid-19” and urged ministers to “introduce robust central management, accountability and oversight” so that departments were better able to respond. to the next crisis.