Living with COVID-19: new testing arrangements

Testing for COVID-19 has been important throughout the pandemic to protect ourselves and others. Testing allowed us to identify positive cases and use self-isolation to break the chain of transmission.

However, protection against COVID-19 is now strong in the population due to vaccination, natural immunity and antiviral treatments. The government has introduced the living with COVID strategy which moves the focus away from testing to promoting safer behaviours that reduce the risk of infection.

With effect from 1 April 2022, universal testing free of charge for the general public has ended. This means that:

  • Fixed and mobile testing sites have closed
  • You can no longer obtain test kits free of charge, either online or from a pharmacy

Who can get a test

Two types of COVID-19 test are used:

  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are for people who have COVID-19 symptoms; PCRs are analysed in a laboratory
  • Lateral flow tests (LFTs) are for people with no symptoms; LFTs provide a result within 30 minutes and can be done at home

There is limited free testing provision for individuals who have COVID-19 symptoms within the following categories:

  • Patients in hospital who need a PCR test to inform their care and treatments
  • Those who are eligible for community COVID-19 treatments because they are at higher risk of severe illness from the virus; if you are in this group you will be contacted directly, you will receive LFTs to keep at home to use if you have symptoms and you will be told how to reorder tests
  • People who live or work in some high-risk settings, such as care homes, supported living services, places of detention, NHS settings and hospices

Asymptomatic LFT testing continues in some settings where there is a risk of infection spreading rapidly while COVID-19 prevalence is high.

Visit Government sets out next steps for living with COVID for examples of the settings and institutions where testing continues. In most cases, visitors to these places are no longer required to test.

The government is working with retailers and pharmacies to establish a private market for those who wish to purchase test kits. Visit Finding and choosing a private coronavirus test provider for guidance on testing and a list of providers.

Stop the spread

Even without testing for COVID-19, you can continue with some simple precautions which help to stop the virus spreading:

  • Get up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations, to protect yourself and others from infection and serious illness
  • If you feel unwell try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people
  • Wear a face covering in enclosed crowded spaces
  • Let in fresh air when indoors with other people
  • Wash your hands regularly