21 February 2022

Living with Covid: What’s happening with free tests and self-isolation?

21 February 2022

The Prime Minister has delivered his plan for living with coronavirus – featuring an end to mandatory self-isolation and universal free tests for the general public in England.

The confirmation of the next step back to normality was presented to MPs on Monday afternoon following a last-minute delay to ministers signing off on the proposals.

So, what happens now? Here’s everything you need to know…

(Jacob King/PA) (PA Wire)

– Will I have to self-isolate if I test positive for Covid?

No, as of Thursday. Subject to Parliamentary approval, the Government is axing the legal obligation to isolate after a positive test from February 24.

However, the official public health advice will remain that people testing positive for the virus should stay at home. This includes both adults and children.

Crucially, this guidance will not be enforced by law.

The Government will also no longer ask vaccinated contacts, and those under 18, to test for seven days, and will remove the legal requirement for contacts who are not vaccinated to self-isolate.

Meanwhile, there will be an end to routine contact tracing.

(PA) (PA Archive)

– Can I still get Covid tests?

For now, yes. But this is changing at the beginning of April.

Mr Johnson hinted on Sunday that provision for free tests could not continue at their current rate due to the cost of £2 billion a month.

We now know that free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing will end for the general public in England from April 1.

Remaining symptomatic testing will be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) set to determine the details.

A degree of asymptomatic testing will also be maintained in the most risky settings, such as in social care.

Mr Johnson’s administration has been warned by critics that the public could be left “flying blind” on Covid if left without free testing provision.

The UKHSA will maintain an appropriate level of lab infrastructure to be able to dial back up PCR testing, should it be needed.

It will also maintain a stockpile of LFTs for a surge in usage if required.

– What is happening with support payments?

From February 24, the Government is planning to end self-isolation payments and some of the practical support that accompanies them.

The following month, from March 24, it is intending to reverse changes to statutory sick pay (SSP) and employment support allowance designed to help people through the Covid crisis.

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