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220330 | People need to remain vigilant about Covid, experts warning, as free universal testing for the virus ends in England

Covid: Record 4908900 people have the virus in UK

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The government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says a drop in precautionary behaviour could drive up infection rates, which are already high.

"I think there's no doubt that if you massively reduce testing across the population, precautionary behaviours are likely to decrease at the same time, and that will then lead to increased transmission.

"This virus is not going away."


1.5 million people were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 31 January 2022


Covid: Last day of free tests in England fuels concern

By Michelle Roberts
Digital health editor

Published

4 days ago
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Covid testImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Free testing will come to an end for most people in England

People need to remain vigilant about Covid, experts are warning, as free universal testing for the virus ends in England on Thursday.

The government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance says a drop in precautionary behaviour could drive up infection rates, which are already high.

Latest estimates suggest one in every 16 people has Covid in the UK.

From 1 April, most people will have to pay for a lateral flow test in England.

High street pharmacies are charging about £2 per test.

Asked about the move, Sir Patrick said: "Testing in effect does three things. It is very important for surveillance, it enables precautionary behaviour and it's useful to protect those who are most vulnerable.

"I think there's no doubt that if you massively reduce testing across the population, precautionary behaviours are likely to decrease at the same time, and that will then lead to increased transmission.

"This virus is not going away."

Some pharmacists say it is difficult to predict how people might behave once they have to pay to get tested. Pharmacist Temi Fabiyi told the BBC: "If people cannot test, they cannot isolate, and I'm afraid the infection rate might keep rising."

Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people in England have signed a petition, launched by campaigning group Keep Our NHS Public, urging the government to continue to offer free lateral flow tests.

The government says ending universal free testing is possible because vaccines and antiviral drugs are protecting people from severe Covid.

Some people, such as NHS staff caring directly for patients, will still be offered free tests.

Unpaid carers won't be.

Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK called it "short-sighted".

"This decision shows a lack of respect and understanding of what unpaid carers have done during the pandemic and continue to do," she said.

Presentational grey line
Lateral flow test bundleImage source, Getty Images

Image caption,

Changes to PCR testing and availability of lateral flow tests come into force on Friday

Who will still have free testing in England?

  • Patients in hospital, where a PCR test is required for their care
  • People who are eligible for community Covid drug treatments because they are at higher risk of getting seriously ill if they become infected
  • Care home residents
  • People working in some high-risk settings, including care homes and prisons
Presentational grey line

UK Health Security Agency chief Dame Jenny Harries says the UK must come to terms with the pandemic remaining unpredictable.

She said: "The pandemic takes its own course and it will remain unpredictable to a large extent for the next, say, 18 months to two years, I think is the general consensus. We will have to be continuously alert to monitor those rates, and to respond appropriately to any new variants.

"But as with other respiratory viruses such as flu... at some point we have to come to terms with that."

She said people should continue to take precautions, adding that she will continue to wear a mask in shops and on public transport.

Some free testing will continue during April in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

In Wales the cut-off is July.

 

 

 

Long COVID

1.5 million people were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 31 January 2022?

Estimated number of people living in private households with self-reported long COVID of any duration, UK: four-week periods ending 2 May 2021 to 31 January 2022?

1.5 million people were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 31 January 2022

Source: Office for National Statistics - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection

1.5 million people were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 31 January 2022

An estimated 1.5 million people in private households (2.4% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 31 January 2022. Of those reporting long COVID symptoms, 4 in 10 (45%) were experiencing these symptoms for at least a year after the first (suspected) infection.?Symptoms adversely affected the day-to-day activities of around two-thirds (65%) of those with self-reported long COVID.??

Fatigue (51%), shortness of breath (35%), loss of smell (34%), loss of taste (25%) and difficulty concentrating (25%) were the most common long COVID symptoms.?Self-reported long COVID was more common in those aged 35 to 49 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in teaching and education, social care or health care, and those with another health condition or disability.??

 

 

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