Covid in UK: Self-isolation and free testing to end in England on April 1 – PM Boris Johnson

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Free Covid testing will end for the general public in England from 1 April and people with positive cases will no longer legally have to isolate from this Thursday, Boris Johnson has announced.

Unveiling his “living with Covid” strategy, the prime minister told the House of Commons it was time for the pandemic response to be wound down and for people to “get our confidence back”.

Johnson emphasised “personal responsibility” for Covid in future, rather than using government restrictions to control it. He said “pharmaceutical interventions”, such as antivirals and vaccines, would be the primary line of defence from now on.

In a series of changes, the prime minister said:

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People will no longer get free PCR and lateral flow tests from 1 April onwards. Some symptomatic people who are elderly or vulnerable will still be able to get free lateral flow tests, but the age limit for this has not yet been decided: the government said it would be restricted to a “small number of at-risk groups” and care home staff.

The legal requirement to isolate after testing positive, and for contacts to isolate or test, will end on Thursday – although people will be advised to do so until April. After that, it will be a matter of personal choice.
Contact tracing and Covid support payments for the low paid will end from Thursday, at the same time as the legal requirement to isolate.

Schools and other education settings will no longer be advised to test twice-weekly, with immediate effect.
Changes to statutory sick pay brought in during the pandemic will be scrapped from 24 February, meaning people will only be able to claim it from day four rather than day one.

NHS and social care staff will no longer get asymptomatic testing but it is expected patients and care home residentswill see this continue.
Guidance on Covid passports will be scrapped from 1 April, with venues no longer recommended to use them. They will still be available for international travel.

The announcement of the strategy was overshadowed by a row between Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, over the level of continuing funding for testing and surveillance of Covid.

A cabinet source said it had been “a comprehensive victory for the Treasury” with funding for testing slashed from an annual £15bn to less than £2bn, with Javid agreeing to reprioritise some of his existing health budget to keep programmes that were under threat. No 10 insisted that the NHS efforts to reduce the waiting list backlog would not be affected.

Johnson claimed the Office for National Statistics survey of Covid in the community would be maintained, but it was not clear whether this will be in its current form or a slimmed-down version. The government also insisted that the Vivaldi study on care homes and Panoramic study on antivirals will continue, although it was not clear how they will be funded and whether enough testing is being done to support them.

The changes were met with scepticism from Labour, who accused the prime minister of weakening sick pay in a way that will “hit the lowest paid and the most insecure workers the hardest”.

He also asked for assurances that the ONS infection survey will not see reduced capacity.

The party’s leader, Keir Starmer, said: “We can’t turn off Britain’s radar before the war is won. Ignorance is bliss is not a responsible approach to a deadly virus. It actually risks undoing all the hard won progress the British people have achieved over the last two years.”

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