THE Welsh Government has said that Boris Johnson’s decision to end free Covid testing in England from April has “seriously undermined” its ability to continue offering the service in Wales.

On Monday, the prime minister announced the changes to Covid testing arrangements for England as part of his ‘Covid-19 Response: Living With Covid-19’ strategy.

The changes mean that, from April 1 in England, people will be unable to access free Covid testing kits – with the exception of “a small number of at-risk groups”.

The government did not provide any further details on who these groups would be when asked by our sister title The South Wales Argus.

The National Wales: Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the end of free Covid testing in England from April. Picture: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire.Prime minister Boris Johnson announced the end of free Covid testing in England from April. Picture: Tolga Akmen/PA Wire.

Although this announcement only applies for England, the Welsh Government has implied that this will see the end of universally free testing in Wales too.

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A Welsh Government spokesperson said: ”The decision by the UK Government to stop funding for testing is regrettable and does not reflect the threat posed by future variants.

“Their decision seriously undermines our ability to provide universal free testing that has proved to be so effective in managing the spread of the virus and helping to keep people safe.”

 

Following the prime minister’s announcement, first minister Mark Drakeford described the decision as “premature and reckless”.

But Welsh Conservative shadow health minister Russell George said the money spent on testing could be better used elsewhere.

“Though I understand the concerns with winding down testing capacity, it does not serve a great statistical purpose when cases reach low levels and they will still be free to those that need them most, while the £12 billion saved could be now be spent on fixing long-term problems in the NHS in Wales,” he said.

The National Wales: Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford described the decision as “premature and reckless”. Picture: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency.Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford described the decision as “premature and reckless”. Picture: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency.

And secretary of state for Wales Simon Hart said: “We have to learn to live with Covid. The prime minister has outlined a balanced plan to help us achieve that.

“Mass testing costs around £2 billion per month - surely our resource, funding and effort is at better use with a more targeted approach?

“If Welsh Government want to continue funding blanket testing going forward then that is a decision for them, they already have the adequate resource and funding to do so.

“This will mean tough decisions against other priorities, but that’s what mature governance is all about.”

READ MORE: Mass Covid testing in Wales 'difficult' without UK support

The UK Government confirmed that its entire Testing, Tracing and Isolation programme – not just mass testing – cost £15.7 billion in the financial year 2021-22, or just over £1.3 billion per month.

It added that it would retain the core infrastructure and capabilities to scale up testing in England in the case of a new variant.

Who is eligible for free tests after April 1 in England?

Under the plans, limited symptomatic testing will be available for a small number of at-risk groups. Over-75s and people over the age of 12 who have weakened immune systems will still be eligible, but the Government are yet to provide any further details on which groups will be eligible.

Free symptomatic testing will still be available to social care staff, the UK Government did confirm.

When asked if this extended to unpaid carers, a Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “We continue to review all our covid-19 measures for adult social care in line with the latest scientific advice, and will provide further details of any changes in due course.”

The prime minister added: “We are working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.”

How much will tests cost?

Prices for Lateral Flow Tests are yet to be confirmed in many places, however Boots are among the first retailers to announce their prices.

The pharmacy said tests will be available to buy online for £5.99 per test or £17 for a pack of four, including delivery, while in-store tests will cost £2.50 for a single test and £12 for a pack of four.

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