Free twice-weekly rapid Covid tests to be offered to everyone in England

Everyone in England is to be offered free, twice-weekly coronavirus tests as ministers prepare for the next stage of easing lockdown restrictions.

The lateral flow tests – which can provide results in around 30 minutes – will be available from Friday, regardless of whether people have symptoms.

The announcement comes as Boris Johnson is due to meet senior ministers on Monday to sign off the next stage of the roadmap out of lockdown. Restrictions began to ease on March 29, with outdoor gatherings allowed in groups of up to six, or two households, following the return of schools and limited outdoor socialising earlier in the month.

People will be able to obtain a test through a home ordering service, workplace or school testing programme, or by collecting one at a local test site.

The Prime Minister said the scheme would help stop fresh outbreaks, enabling the authorities to identify and control new variants of the disease.

“As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine programme and with our roadmap cautiously easing restrictions underway, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted,” he said.

“That’s why we’re now rolling out free rapid tests to everyone across England – helping us to stop outbreaks in their tracks, so we can get back to seeing the people we love and doing the things we enjoy.”

Mr Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of the Covid O committee before briefing the full Cabinet on the arrangements for the latest phase of lockdown lifting which will see non-essential shops in England reopen from April 12.

He will then set out the details at a Downing Street press conference where he is expected to say more about plans announced at the weekend for Covid certificates for mass gatherings from sporting events to nightclubs.

He will also outline the Government’s approach for lifting restrictions on holidays abroad starting from May 17.

Under the Government’s roadmap, pubs and restaurants will be able to start serving customers outdoors from next week while hairdressers, nail salons, gyms and libraries – as well as non-essential retail – will be able to reopen.

While there is relief among MPs at the prospect of the economy reopening, there is concern among some about the proposals for the “Covid status certification” scheme dubbed “vaccine passports”.

Ministers insist the certificates – which could be a mobile phone app or a paper document – will never be required for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or GP surgeries.

Initially, at least, they will also not be necessary to go to pubs or restaurants as they begin serving again.

Ministers believe the scheme will be most useful in managing the risks where there are large numbers of people in close proximity such as music festivals, sporting matches and nightclubs.

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