Boots will start selling Covid tests for SIX POUNDS from tomorrow

Boots will start selling Covid tests for SIX POUNDS from tomorrow as experts urge No10 to introduce a Spain-like cap on cost of private swabs to stop retailers cashing in on move to abandon free swabs in April

  • Boots became first retailer to announce it will offer private lateral flow tests, starting at £5.99 from tomorrow
  • Calls among experts for price cap over profiteering fears with swabs costing £1 to manufacture domestically
  • Already test cost limits in Spain, France and Portugal, with Spanish Government setting a ceiling of just £2.45

Ministers were today urged to put a price cap on lateral flow tests 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 Covid and wish to continue testing will have to purchase the rapid tests 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 tomorrow — despite the swabs costing just £1 to manufacture domestically and pennies abroad. 

The high street chain 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.

Professor Christina Pagel, a member of the Independent Sage Covid campaign group, told MailOnline that she was ‘very concerned’ about affordability of the tests. 

She echoed concerns from other critics that abolishing free swabbing during a cost of living crisis would hit poor people hardest.

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. An industry insider told MailOnline they ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if the tests were 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 showing off their ‘towers’ of lateral flow packs 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

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. 

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. 

‘It will make much harder for those in less well off communities to exercise the personal responsibility the government is asking for.’

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 should 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. 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.

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 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. 

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’.

As part of his ‘living with Covid’ blueprint, the Prime Minister announced last night he will scrap ‘free’ lateral flow tests within weeks.

People trying to order packs last night and this morning in England were told they had run out already

Britons can currently pick up the tests in pharmacies or order them through the Government’s website at no cost. But the scheme costs No10 £2billion per month.

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. 

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.

Boris Johnson unveiled his ‘living with Covid’ strategy yesterday.

He said England would become one of the first countries in the world to emerge ‘from the teeth of the pandemic’, adding: ‘After two of the darkest, grimmest years in our peacetime history, I believe this is a moment of pride for our nation and a source of hope for all that we can achieve in the years to come.

‘The sun is shining but we’re keeping our umbrella.’

Confirmation that all Covid restrictions will end was cheered by Tory MPs, with even some of the PM’s 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.

The Government expects a market for lateral flow devices to develop once boxes are no longer available free on the NHS, with individual tests expected to cost a few pounds.

It is believed they will be much cheaper than the tests people have had to pay for before going on holiday.

To prevent people stockpiling them before April 1, individuals will be able to order a box of tests on the NHS only every three days instead of one every 24 hours.

CBI policy director Matthew Fell welcomed the plan as a ‘significant step towards normality returning’ and said it could prove to be a ‘springboard for confidence, providing firms the certainty they need to invest and grow’.

But he said business would need further guidance on issues such as sick pay and employer liability to avoid a ‘legal vacuum’.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said the decision to end day-one sick pay would create ‘needless hardship and take a sledgehammer to public health’.

Labour opposed the end of free testing, with Sir Keir Starmer saying it was like ‘taking off your best defender’ during a close football match.

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