On 21 February 2022, the Government published, “COVID-19 Response: Living with COVID-19” which set out the government’s plan for living with COVID-19. This included removing remaining legal domestic restrictions while continuing to protect people most at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and maintaining resilience.
The Government’s objective in the next phase of the COVID-19 response is to enable the country to manage COVID-19 like other respiratory illnesses, while minimising mortality and retaining the ability to respond if a new variant emerges with more dangerous properties than the Omicron variant. As a result, the Government now assesses that it is time to transition its response towards guidance and encouraging responsible behaviours, while targeting protection towards those individuals most at risk from the virus. I have today set out the future approach in England to testing beyond April.
The Living with COVID-19 strategy is already being implemented. Individuals are no longer legally required to self-isolate, and instead are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if they test positive. This advice will be updated further as set out below. The Government has removed its advice for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake routine twice weekly asymptomatic testing. The Government has started the process of reducing its testing and tracing infrastructure, in preparation for the end of free universal testing from 1st April. We are now reconfiguring our services to target government testing provision to enable treatment and protect our most vulnerable settings.
The Government will continue to provide free symptomatic testing for:
- patients in hospital, for whom a test is required for clinical management or to support treatment pathways.
- people who are eligible for COVID-19 treatments because they are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19. People in this group will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms as well as being told how to reorder tests.
- individuals who live or work in high-risk closed settings, for example in some NHS, Social Care and Prison (and other Places of Detention) settings where infection needs to be identified quickly to minimise outbreaks.
NHS England will be writing to those eligible people to inform them of the new process.
DHSC will continue to fund some asymptomatic testing in NHS services, during periods of higher prevalence, including for staff and patients.
For ASC services and hospices, DHSC will also continue to fund some regular asymptomatic testing for staff in periods of high prevalence. Asymptomatic testing of care home and hospice residents will be provided on admission and during an outbreak, not routinely.
In addition, in some closed or semi-closed settings, for example: parts of the Prison estate, Places of Detention, and some refuges and shelters, where individuals are at high risk of severe disease outcome and infection can spread rapidly, asymptomatic testing will continue to mitigate risk during higher prevalence periods.
Most visitors to adult social care settings, and visitors in the NHS, prisons or places of detention will no longer be required to take a test.
UKHSA will maintain critical surveillance capabilities to provide insight into emerging threats and retain contingency capabilities to enable a rapid response. This includes genomic sequencing to identify a variant of concern and the ability to scale up a national response, should that be warranted. It will retain the ability to enable a rapid testing response should it be needed, such as because of a new variant of concern . UKHSA will also retain critical lab and contingency infrastructure, delivery channels, mobile testing units, and accompanying digital infrastructure. Altogether, this will ensure we retain critical resilience - giving rapid, reactive capability to respond to a future health threat, whilst a more comprehensive response can be scaled.
Guidance will be published on 1 April that sets out the actions that those with symptoms of COVID-19 or respiratory illness should take to reduce risk of infection to others.
UKHSA is committed to working with Devolved Governments to take forward the testing programme in each nation in 2022-23.
The Government has provided significant additional funding, through additional borrowing, to respond to the pandemic, the cost of living with COVID-19 will be met within existing funding streams, including the additional funding allocated at SR21. The Government will reallocate resources as necessary to pay for the maintenance of our pharmaceutical defences against COVID-19 and preserve hard-won freedoms.
Free parking in hospital car parks for NHS staff was temporarily introduced for the duration of the pandemic and will also come to an end on 31 March. However, over 94% of NHS Trusts that charge for car parking have implemented free parking for those in greatest need, including NHS staff working overnight.
Finally, on behalf of the Government, I would like to record my thanks to everyone who has worked tirelessly to keep people safe over the last two years and whose efforts have enabled us to move to the next stage of the COVID-19 response.
The Government will continue to work together with our partners to keep all of these measures under review.
This statement has also been made in the House of Lords