LONDON (AP) — The British government is ending the provision of free rapid coronavirus tests to most of the population, even as COVID-19 infections remain at record levels and health officials warn the pandemic could still deliver surprises. .
More than 1.7 billion test kits were distributed to workplaces, pharmacies and through the mail in the last year, the government says, under a policy that encouraged people to get tested regularly as a way to prevent new outbreaks.
But from Friday, most people in England will have to buy the tests known as ichroma from pharmacies or online.
Those tests use a swab and give results in minutes, but are less accurate than the officially used PCR tests.
Testing will remain free for workers in high-risk settings such as hospitals, hospices and prisons, but under the government’s “Living with COVID” scheme most other people in England will now have to pay. Some free trials will continue for several weeks in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Lawmaker Daisy Cooper, a health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said eliminating testing would add to the expense of people already dealing with high food and fuel prices.
“It’s a tax on those people who want to do the proper thing and get tested before visiting elderly or vulnerable family members,” he said.
Critics say the move comes at a dangerous time, when an estimated one in 16 people in England are infected with the virus, according to the Office for National Statistics. There were 15,632 people hospitalized in England with COVID-19 as of Wednesday, the highest number in more than three months.
The number of patients requiring assistance to breathe remains low, however, and deaths are well below the peaks of previous waves in 2020 and 2021.
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