Explained: What The Government's Plans For Living With Covid Mean

Free testing will end and people with Covid will no longer be legally required to self-isolate under the new strategy
Universal access to free lateral flow tests will end on April 1
Universal access to free lateral flow tests will end on April 1
Danny Lawson via PA Wire/PA Images

Despite a last-minute row between Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid, Boris Johnson has published the government’s “Living With Covid” strategy.

Cabinet finally met virtually this afternoon - some three hours later than planned due to the aforementioned ministerial dispute - and signed off on the plan to lift the remaining Covid restrictions in England.

Here are the main ways in which our lives will change from later this week.

No more self-isolation

From Thursday, the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid will be scrapped.

Instead, people with the virus will be encouraged to stay at home, although they will not face prosecution if they don’t.

The government hopes that, just as when individuals catch the flu or a stomach bug, they will take personal responsibility and choose not to go to work until they are well again.

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

There will also be an end to routine contact tracing, while workers will no longer legally have to tell their employers when they are required to self-isolate.

But critics point out that, given many people with Covid are asymptomatic, it’s possible to go to work and not realise you have the virus and can therefore pass it on to others, who may become very ill.

End to free testing

This is undoubtedly the most controversial aspect of the government’s plan.

From April 1, the universal right to receive free lateral flow or PCR tests will end. Only those in high risk settings like health care, as well as the most vulnerable and over-80s, will still be allowed to order tests without any charge.

It means, for the first time in the UK, test manufacturers will be able to charge members of the public for their product.

Johnson made clear on Sunday that the need to cut the cost to the Treasury of dealing with the pandemic was driving the change in policy.

He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show: “We need resilience but we don’t need to keep, for instance on testing, we don’t need to keep spending at a rate of £2 billion a month, which is what we were doing in January.”

The move has again drawn criticism, with shadow health secretary Wes Streeting saying: “It’s a bit like being to one up with 10 minutes left to play and subbing your best defender.

“Access to free testing right now, given the prevalence of the virus, given the fact we’re still asking people to isolate at home if they have the virus if they’re infectious, is a really critical tool.”

However, the government insists it will still be able to track the spread of the virus through existing detection programmes, such as the survey carried out by the Office National Statistics.

End to the Covid sick pay arrangements

From March 24, the government will remove the special provisions on statutory sick pay and Employment Support Allowance, which were brought in at the start of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, individuals could only claim statutory sick pay after four days and ESA after seven days.

Due to the Covid crisis people were allowed to claim it from the first day they were away from work.

This emergency arrangement will finally come to an end two years after the pandemic began.

New advice on avoiding Covid

Boris Johnson stressed that the pandemic is not over, and the public are still encouraged to continue to follow public health advice, as with all infectious diseases such as the flu, to minimise the chance of catching Covid and help protect family and friends.

This includes letting fresh air in when meeting indoors, wearing a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, and washing your hands.


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