Ministers were today urged to put a price cap on lateral flows when mass Covid testing is scrapped in England amid fears the private sector could cash in on the move.
People who are not vulnerable to the virus and wish to continue testing will have to purchase the rapid kits from supermarkets, high street pharmacies and potentially even petrol stations after April 1.
Boots has already announced it will charge up to £6 for a single test from its website tomorrow — despite the swabs costing just £1 to manufacture domestically and pennies abroad. The price includes delivery fees.
The high street chain also said the price of an individual swab will be brought down to £2.50 by the time the free testing scheme is axed in April.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran told MailOnline that leaving Covid testing in the hands of private firms could see them ‘fleece the public’. She added: ‘If the government insists on doing so, they must introduce a price cap as other European nations already have.’
Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage campaign group, told MailOnline that she was ‘very concerned’ about affordability of the tests, adding she would ‘definitely’ support a cap.
She echoed concerns from other critics that abolishing free swabbing during a cost of living crisis would hit poor people hardest. Patients’ rights groups told MailOnline the poorest in society would not be able to afford the tests ‘even with a price cap’.
There are already test cost limits in Spain, France and Portugal, with the Spanish Government setting a ceiling of just £2.45 per test. In France, people can pick up tests for as little as £1.
The UK Government has been paying £4 per lateral flow test, according to the most recent figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request last summer. However, there is a suggestion that tests from China are cheaper.
It is thought that Lidl could be one of the retailers to offer the tests privately in England after April after supplying people in Ireland and Germany with the tests for as little as £1.80 for months. Aldi has also been offering private lateral flow swabs at stores across Europe.
One industry insider told MailOnline that they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if the tests were eventually stocked in petrol stations.
There has been a rush for free swabs in England on the back of Monday’s announcement that they will be phased out in six weeks, with shameless stockpilers sharing pictures of their lateral flow ‘towers’ on social media.
The official Government website ran out last night with tests still unavailable online and via the 119 phone line this morning and officials have started limiting orders to one pack in 72 hours rather than every 24 hours.
Boots has announced it will charge up to £6 for a single lateral flow test from tomorrow — despite the swabs costing just £1 to manufacture domestically and pennies abroad
The Government is dolling out half a million free lateral flow tests per day currently. In the past this has risen above 2million on some days
In France, people can pick up tests at a third of the UK price (around £3), for as little as £1, while in Germany they can cost just £1.80 and Spain’s Government has capped them at roughly £2.45. However, the tests – which experts say can cost just pennies to make – are not as cheap everywhere, with Americans paying $10 (£7.35)
Stockpilers shared pictures of their towers of free NHS lateral flow tests that cost £2billion a month and are being phased out from April 1
Nicola Sturgeon axes Covid passes and ditches masks but says free tests WILL remain in place ‘until further notice’
Nicola Sturgeon today unveiled her plan for a ‘sustainable return to a normal way of life’ in Scotland as she promised to axe remaining coronavirus rules and blasted Boris Johnson for scrapping free tests in England.
The First Minister said that the use of Covid certificates will end from Monday February 28 and the legal requirement to wear a mask in certain indoor settings will be converted to guidance from March 21.
Ms Sturgeon said that she believes it is ‘reasonable’ to eventually move away from mass asymptomatic Covid testing to a more targeted approach but stressed it must be done in a ‘careful and phased manner’.
She said that access to free tests will therefore continue ‘from now until further notice’, with the Scottish government due to publish a detailed plan in March setting out how it will transition away from mass free testing.
Ms Sturgeon’s pandemic exit plan is notably more cautious than Mr Johnson’s in England after he yesterday announced the end of self-isolation rules from February 24 and the withdrawal of free tests for the general public from April 1.
Mr Johnson’s decision to scrap free testing means people in England will soon have to pay for the checks.
The move has prompted a furious row with the devolved administrations.
Downing Street has said it will not provide any extra cash to maintain free testing given the provision is ending in England.
The SNP is calling on the Treasury to provide more money but Chancellor Rishi Sunak is not expected to budge on the issue.
That means Ms Sturgeon would have to cut spending elsewhere if she wants to continue to provide free tests beyond Mr Johnson’s April 1 cut off date.
Ms Sturgeon said this afternoon that she was still seeking clarity from the Treasury on the testing issue.
A Government source said ministers were still in talks with shops and pharmacies, with an update on price and availability to be announced in the coming weeks.
Professor Pagel told MailOnline: ‘I am very concerned about the affordability of tests for those on low incomes, particularly the timing given the coming steep rise in the cost of living in April.
‘It will make much harder for those in less well off communities to exercise the personal responsibility the government is asking for.’
Patients’ rights groups echoed the University College London mathematician’s concerns, insisting the tests will widen the health gap between rich and poor even if they have been price capped.
Rachel Power, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘Charging for lateral flow tests creates a barrier between patients and a valuable public health protection.
‘Patients, already experiencing health inequalities, which have been made worse by the pandemic, may not be able to afford to pay for them, even with a price cap and even if they need them to protect their family, friends and co-workers.
‘We do not support the Government’s decision to end free tests in England from April 1. The decision to lift measures like self-isolation and free tests is premature.’
Lara Wong, founder of the Clinically Vulnerable Families group, told MailOnline: ‘We believe that all vulnerable people including the elderly and their contacts need to have access to free testing.
‘If someone is living hand to mouth having to access food banks and unable to pay for their energy bills with prices soaring, how will they ever be able to afford testing even if it has been price capped?
‘Removal of free testing will force the government to implement a system to identify, manage and maintain list of qualifying individuals. This will undoubtedly cost the public purse an astronomical amount.
‘Covid affects the poorest communities the most, so the removal of all free testing will only widen the health gap between the rich and the poor.’
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Lords leader Lord Newby said: ‘If faced with eating or heating or paying for a Covid test, it is pretty obvious what is going to be the lowest priority.
‘So we have real concerns about getting rid of free testing, especially for those who are either vulnerable or have family who are vulnerable.’
However, the Adam Smith Institute warned that a price cap could cause shortages by forcing manufacturers to sell elsewhere and reduce the quality of products sold to Britons.
The right-wing think-tank urged the Government to sell any remaining lateral flow tests to the private sector for profit to recoup small amounts of pandemic debt.
Boots became the first UK retailer to announce it will offer lateral flow devices privately in the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement.
From tomorrow, customers can purchase a pack of four lateral flow tests for £17, or one test for £5.99, online to be delivered to their home.
Now the Government starts to wind down the daily Covid figures as part of ‘living with virus’ plan
Britain’s Covid data dashboard will no longer be updated at weekends under Boris Johnson’s strategy to live with the coronavirus like flu.
Infection, hospitalisation, death, vaccination and testing figures won’t be uploaded on Saturdays and Sundays, the UK Health Security Agency announced today.
Instead, numbers logged on Saturday and Sunday will all be lumped together in one artificially-higher figure on Monday. Daily figures will not be separated out.
The dashboard, hailed as one of the best in the world, has been updated seven days a week throughout the pandemic, allowing the ministers, experts and the public to monitor outbreaks in granular detail across the country.
The move to water it down is part of No10’s official ‘living with Covid’ plan, which the PM unveiled yesterday.
After almost two years of on-off lockdowns, the PM revealed that all remaining legal restrictions will be lifted at midnight tomorrow.
The requirement to self-isolate for at least five days after testing positive for Covid is being dropped, and free testing — thought to cost ministers £2billion a month — will end on April 1 for all but the elderly and vulnerable.
The blueprint also sets out that the UKHSA, which runs the dashboard, will keep the content and frequency of Covid reporting ‘under close review’ and ensure statistics are shared with ‘the appropriate level of quality and transparency’.
Experts told MailOnline today that cutting back on the daily data won’t make ‘much difference’ to interpreting the UK’s Covid situation.
But some scientists and MPs have publicly called for the Government to abandon the daily updates and pivot to releasing them every week, as is done for flu.
The move comes after Mr Johnson yesterday confirmed that the Office for National Statistics’ gold-standard Covid surveillance system would continue to operate.
In early March, the chain said it will begin selling them in 400 of its stores in England — at £2.50 for a single test or £12 for a pack of five.
MailOnline understands rival chains are in discussions with suppliers to sell the devices even cheaper.
There are no details about which manufacturer Boots has purchased the rapid tests from or exactly how many the pharmacy giant has bought.
But it suggests the retailer is paying much less than the Government.
The Scottish Government revealed last July in response to an FOI request that Whitehall was paying £4 per test, excluding VAT.
However, there are suggestions that certain kits were being sold to ministers for even cheaper. Last winter it was revealed that No10 had paid around £800million in return for roughly 380million swabs from the California-based firm, suggesting the Government was paying in the region of £2.10 per test.
Meanwhile, extraordinary pictures show the lengths that some Britons have gone to stockpile packs, proudly sharing pictures of mounds of tests that are costing the taxpayer £2billion per month.
One person, who has stockpiled more than 25 packs, tweeted: ‘When the Government wants to start charging for lateral flow tests. I’ve come fully prepared so I don’t run out of covid tests’.
English dramatist and academic Dan Rebellato tweeted a picture of his own ‘absurd tower’ of tests in his office. He said: ‘Both of us working in education, we test very regularly – to protect ourselves and our students. I knew they’d scrap the free testing so have been ordering test packs whenever I remember’.
Some have even suggested they could choose to sell them online from April – while people in Wales and Scotland, where tests are expected to remain free, are offering to stockpile them there and post them to friends in England.
One person tweeted: ‘If people order a load of free lateral flow tests now, then once it’s April 1st they can sell them cheaper than the government, at least the money won’t be going to them’.
Another wrote: ‘Gonna start stocking up on lateral flow tests to take back to my family asap. very glad testing and isolation rules are staying the same in Wales at the moment’.
Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told MailOnline that her members had noticed a growing trend of hoarding in the past 24 hours.
She said: ‘We raised concerns around Christmas time about supply not meeting the demand following change in government guidelines. Once again pharmacies find themselves in a situation where we are not communicated with prior to an announcement and need to deal with the increased demand’.
Hours after it was revealed that free LFTs will be phased out in England, a rush of orders led to them running out online.
One person tweeted: ‘I’m unable to get any lateral flow tests delivered to my home. My local pharmacy doesn’t have any available for me to collect. I have no tests left. I work with the most vulnerable people in society. What do I do now if I have the mildest symptoms?’
Another critic said: ‘Why if you can get free lateral flow tests until April have I just wasted time trying to order some to be told you have no slots ! It’s ridiculous’.
People trying to order packs last night and this morning in England were told they had run out already
Previously people worrying they had Covid were able to put an order in every 24 hours for a set. But now the Government portal says they can only be ordered once every three days.
Mathematical biologist Dr Kit Yates wrote online: ‘It’s started. You used to be able to order a pack of lateral flow tests every 24 hours. That has now gone up to every 72 hours.’
Another added: ‘Looks like the Lateral Flow Tests system has already changed ahead of PM’s announcements today.’
A Londoner said: ‘I’ve been ordering a pack every 24 hours (ish) for the last week to stock up in light of the rumours of there being a charge.
‘I want to be able to test before seeing anyone vulnerable. I’m sure it was still 24 hours earlier this morning.’
Over-80s and the most vulnerable will still be offered free Covid tests after they are scrapped nationwide, it was claimed today.
The PM’s confirmation that all Covid restrictions will end was cheered by Tory MPs, with even some of his critics praising the move.
Former Cabinet minister David Davis said the announcement ‘could well be the beginning of the end – the end of daily curbs on our personal freedoms’.
But Mr Johnson refused to offer any guarantees that lockdowns could be avoided in the future if a serious new variant emerged, saying only that vaccines and medication would form the ‘first line of defence’.
The biggest single change will see an end to disruptive self-isolation rules, with the PM saying it was time to start ‘protecting ourselves without losing our liberties’.
As part of his long-awaited strategy for ‘living with Covid’, Mr Johnson said free universal testing will be scrapped in April. He told MPs that it was time to ‘move from government restrictions to personal responsibility’.
Until the end of March, anyone who receives a positive Covid test will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days – but they will no longer be obliged to do it under the law.
Routine contact tracing will end on Thursday, as will the £500 self-isolation payments and the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers about their requirement to isolate.
Changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowances will end on March 24. It means people will have to wait for four days before they can claim statutory sick pay, rather than straight away as at present.
Free universal testing – which costs £16 billion a year – will be massively scaled back from April 1 and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable. Free symptomatic testing for social care staff will continue. And although fewer tests will be taking place, ministers will keep labs in readiness to boost their capacity if cases start to rise.
Read more at DailyMail.co.uk