The UK government recently announced that free COVID tests would no longer be available for people living in England.

This change was announced as part of the government’s “Living with COVID” plan.

What changes are being made to COVID testing?

From April 1st 2022, free lateral flow tests (LFTs) won’t be available in England – except for anyone over the age of 75 and people over the age of 12 who live with weakened immune systems and so are classed as clinical vulnerable.

If anyone outside of these groups wants an LFT, they will have to buy it from a pharmacist or a private retailer such as Fit2FlyTest.

In the meantime, the number of lateral flow tests currently available in England has been capped to “manage demand”, with people only being allowed to order one pack of seven LFTs every three days – when previously they could order one pack a day.

Free PCR tests will also no longer be available from April, except for those in a small number of at-risk groups – with further details on this expected to be announced shortly.

It is expected that social care workers with COVID symptoms will still be able to access free testing.

How can I get a lateral flow test or PCR test at the moment?

At the moment, anyone who does not have any COVID symptoms can order LFTs online via the NHS – using their NHS login.

LFTs can also be collected from pharmacies, test centres and vaccination hubs – as long as you register for them online first to get a “collection code.”

All LFT should be reported online or by calling 119.

The LFTs available through the NHS are not used for travel testing if you are going abroad. These tests need to be brought from a private provider. 

People with COVID symptoms can order a PCR test online from the NHS or book an appointment at a test site – which could be either walk-in or drive-through.

What are the current COVID testing and self-isolation rules?

The  current COVID test and self-isolation rules are:

  • England – There is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate for five days if you test positive for COVID from February 24th
  • Northern Ireland – You are “strongly advised” to self-isolate for ten days after you test positive, and there is an opportunity to end this on day six if you test negative on two consecutive days
  • Scotland and Wales – If you test positive for COVID, you are legally required to report your result and also self-isolate for at least seven days until you have two negative LFT results 24 hours apart

What are the current testing rules if you encounter someone with a positive case of COVID?

Routine contact tracing in England is also ending from February 24th, with people who have encountered someone with a positive case of COVID no longer required to seld-isolate or take daily tests – even if they are unvaccinated. The UK government will release guidance on how they can reduce risk to themselves and others.

If you are fully vaccinated in Scotland, you should take daily LFTs for seven days (or ten days after your last contact if this is earlier), but you don’t have to self-isolate. If any of the tests return a positive result, you must self-isolate from the date of the test – but you do not need to confirm the result with a PCR test. 

If you are not fully vaccinated, you have to self-isolate for ten days. You are also advised to take a PCR test and continue to isolate even if the result comes back negative. 

Unvaccinated people in Wales are advised to take LFTs on day two and day eight, even if they have no symptoms. 

Who does need to carry on testing for COVID?

The requirement for staff and students in most childcare and education settings in England to test twice weekly has been removed. Arrangements for NHS staff has yet to be confirmed.

In the rest of the UK, education and NHS staff still have to test twice a week – three times a week in Wales.

The UK government has also recently announced that venues in England no longer need to use the NHS COVID pass from April 1st.

There may still be a requirement to test yourself for COVID before you travel abroad, and you must use privately bought tests for this – not the free NHS tests. 

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