The government quietly began rationing at-home Covid tests on Monday, hours before the prime minister announced the free scheme would end altogether on 1 April.
Up until now, rapid lateral flow tests have been free to order on the gov.uk website, with Britons being encouraged to “flow before you go” to any social situation – particularly ones involving elderly or vulnerable people.
The public could previously order one pack of seven tests every 24 hours through the site – plus they were available through pharmacies – but this morning, the website was blocking anyone from requesting more tests if they had placed an order in the last 72 hours.
Confirming the move this evening, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said it was an attempt by the government to prevent people from stockpiling lateral flow tests before the April cut off.
The news came moments after Mr Johnson stood in the House of Commons to tell MPs he would be scrapping almost all Covid restrictions by the end of the month, as well as the right to free testing from April.
Setting out his living with Covid plan, he said testing had become “much less valuable” in restricting the spread of coronavirus, and said the £2bn-a-month cost of the system meant the government had to “scale back” what it could offer.
The prime minister also told MPs the success of the UK’s vaccination programme meant the government could “lift our restrictions earlier than comparable countries”.
He said: “It’s time we got our confidence back – we can rely on that sense of responsibility to one another. Let us learn to live with this virus, and continue protecting ourselves and others, without restricting freedoms.”
Criticising the “half-baked” plan, Labour leader Keir Starmer said while he believed the public would continue to do the “right thing”, removing free tests meant the government was “taking away the tools” for them to do so.
“Free tests can’t continue forever, but if you’re 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go you don’t sub off one of your best defenders,” he told MPs.
Accusing the prime minister of ignoring the ongoing realities of the pandemic, Sir Keir added: “All we've got today is yet more chaos and disarray … an approach which seems to think that living with Covid means simply ignoring it.”
Meanwhile, demand for lateral flows proved so popular on Monday that some of those trying to order through the gov.uk website were presented with a warning over a lack of delivery slots.
“Sorry, there are no home delivery slots left for these tests right now,” the message reads, as people scramble to get the kits while they are still free.
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