The Government has started secretly rationing free Coronavirus home testing kits amid fears of a rush ahead of them being phased out.
The online portal to apply for seven lateral flow tests was quietly changed this morning to restrict how many could be ordered.
Previously people worrying they had Covid were able to put an order in every 24 hours for a set.
But now the Government portal says they can only be ordered once every three days.
There were no announcements about this change but it comes ahead of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s expected announcement that all restrictions will be lifted.
Mathematical biologist Dr Kit Yates wrote online: ‘It’s started. You used to be able to order a pack of lateral flow tests every 24 hours. That has now gone up to every 72 hours.’
Before and after: The rules used to allow a test every 24 hours but it is now every 72 hours
People worried about the availability of tests in the future have started stockpiling them
Free testing is incredibly expensive and looks to be phased out for most people in the UK
Another added: ‘Looks like the Lateral Flow Tests system has already changed ahead of PM’s announcements today.’
Londoner Mary said: ‘I’ve been ordering a pack every 24 hours (ish) for the last week to stock up in light of the rumours of there being a charge.
‘I want to be able to test before seeing anyone vulnerable. I’m sure it was still 24 hours earlier this morning.’
Over-80s and the most vulnerable will still be offered free Covid tests after they are scrapped nationwide, it was claimed today.
Boris Johnson will unveil his ‘living with Covid’ strategy later today, with the Prime Minister expected to lay out a timetable for axing public access to lateral flow and PCR swabs.
The regime — thought to cost taxpayers around £2billion a month — could start to be wound down within weeks.
But after wrangling between Sajid Javid’s Department of Health and Rishi Sunak’s Treasury, free testing is likely to be kept in place for at-risk groups.
As well as the over-80s, Whitehall sources say free tests may still be made available to NHS staff, hospital patients and care home residents.
Boris Johnson is planning to wind down the Covid testing drive. Pictured above is a mobile testing unit in Windsor in early February
Covid infections plummet by 37% in a week to 25,696 cases
Covid infection rates plummeted by more than a third on last week yesterday — as Boris Johnson prepared Britain to fully exit Covid restrictions.
Case rates reported by the UK Health Security Agency on Sunday fell by 37 per cent on last week to 25,696 cases – the lowest figure since August last year.
Deaths however increased slightly compared to last Sunday, rising from 52 to 74.
It comes as Mr Johnson urged people to be ‘more confident and get back to work’ as he heralded this coming Thursday as Covid Freedom Day.
The PM will unveil his ‘Living with Covid Plan’ tomorrow, insisting vaccines and new treatments can be relied upon to keep the public safe.
All curbs – including legal self-isolation – are set to end in England within days, and Mr Johnson made clear that the taxpayer cannot keep shelling out £2billion a month on mass testing.
In a compromise between the Treasury and Department of Health, he will lay out a timetable for axing free tests – but they are still likely to be available for more vulnerable and older age groups.
‘We will be testing at a much lower level,’ he told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show. ‘We are in a different world. It’s important people should feel confident again… people should be able to go back to work in the normal way.’
He added: ‘We need people to be much more confident and get back to work.’
No10’s business minister Paul Scully today said the Government ‘cannot continue forevermore spending £2billion a month on tests’.
He said: ‘There’s a lot of other backlogs in the NHS, other illnesses in the NHS, that that money could otherwise go for.’
But Labour, the unions and medical experts argue it is simply too early to consider scrapping Covid curbs.
The PM will unveil the plan at Parliament this afternoon, before presenting it to the nation in a televised Downing St press conference tonight, where he may be flanked by top advisers, Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.
It is expected to be an end to nearly two years of Covid curbs, with Mr Johnson set to declare that it is time for the public to take personal responsibility for their health.
The power to impose lockdowns and self-isolation rules are set to end on Thursday.
Contact tracing will also be wound down, and schoolchildren will be told they no longer need to test themselves twice a week, according to The Guardian.
Britain currently carries out about 900,000 Covid swabs everyday, including 250,000 PCRs.
Most of these tests will end from April under Government plans, reports the Daily Telegraph, although some vulnerable people will still be able to access them.
Critics have raised concerns that the plans — which will only apply to England — could leave the country unable to detect flare-ups in Covid cases, or new variants in parts of the country.
Mr Scully told Sky News today that ‘we can’t continue forevermore spending £2billion a month on tests’.
He added: ‘If you think what that £2billion might go towards, there’s a lot of other backlogs in the NHS, other illnesses in the NHS, that that money could otherwise go for.
‘So for every person that is worried about a test, there may be another person that’s worried about a cancer diagnosis, for instance.’
Mr Johnson said today will be a ‘moment of pride’. But he insisted it was now time for an end to reliance on government intervention.
He said: ‘Today will mark a moment of pride after one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history as we begin to learn to live with Covid.
‘It would not be possible without the efforts of so many – the NHS who delivered the life-saving vaccine rollout at phenomenal speed, our world-leading scientists and experts, and the general public for their commitment to protecting themselves and their loved ones.
‘The pandemic is not over but thanks to the incredible vaccine rollout we are now one step closer towards a return to normality and finally giving people back their freedoms while continuing to protect ourselves and others.’
Speaking to the BBC yesterday, the PM said lifting the rules did not mean the public should start acting irresponsibly.
People will still be encouraged to stay away from work if they have Covid, but it will no longer be a legal requirement.
He said: ‘It’s very important we should remain careful, and we’re certainly not asking people to throw caution to the winds.
‘We’ve reached a stage where we think you can shift the balance away from state mandation, away from banning certain courses of action, compelling certain courses of action, in favour of encouraging personal responsibility.
‘I think we need resilience, but we don’t need to keep spending at a rate of £2billion a month [on testing], which is what we were doing in January.’