Covid: Self-isolation to end Thursday and free tests scrapped from 1 April

The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid and £500 quarantine support payments will end in England on Thursday, Boris Johnson has announced.

The prime minister also confirmed that free Covid testing for the public will be scrapped in England from 1 April, as he set out his “living with Covid” plan in the Commons.

Mr Johnson said testing had become “much less valuable” in restricting the spread of Covid, and said the £2bn-a-month cost of the system meant the government had to “scale back” what it could offer.

The prime minister also told MPs the success of the UK’s vaccination programme meant the government could “lift our restrictions earlier than comparable countries”.

He said: “It’s time we got our confidence back – we can rely on that sense of responsibility to one another. Let us learn to live with this virus, and continue protecting ourselves and others, without restricting freedoms.”

Routine contact tracing will end on Thursday, as will the legal obligation for individuals to tell employers about their requirement to isolate.

The government is also stripping back sick pay from next month. From 24 March, the £96.35 a-week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) will go back to being available on the fourth day of any illness, rather than on day one.

Read more: Boris Johnson ends isolation for positive cases – follow LIVE

Mr Johnson also said that from 1 April the use of voluntarily Covid status certification will no longer be recommended – though the NHS app “will continue to allow people to indicate their vaccination status for international travel”.

Sir Keir Starmer condemned the PM’s “half-baked announcement” – criticising the end of self-isolation support payments and weakening sick pay, and questioning the decision to scale back free testing. “We can’t turn off Britain’s radar before the war is won.”

Mr Johnson said the evidence for ending all curbs in England was “amply there in the scientific evidence”, before claiming that Sir Keir had shown a “ferocious grip of the wrong end of the stick”.

Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said it would be “premature and reckless” to wind back the programme, while Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would be “inexcusable negligence given ongoing risks”.

The cabinet was due to sign off the prime minister’s plan, which includes a significant reduction in the NHS Test and Trace system, on Monday morning.

But the green lighting was pushed back – with the unexpected delay thought to centre on a row with health secretary Sajid Javid and chancellor Rishi Sunak over how to fund the continuation of some free testing.

An ally of Mr Sunak insisted the delay was “no one’s fault” but it was “just cabinet-level discussions as you’d expect”.

Free testing will be massively scaled back from 1 April, and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency set to determine the details, while a degree of asymptomatic testing will continue in settings such as in social care.

Downing Street sources said that no price was being set for a box of lateral flow tests after free supplies end on 1 April, and it will be down to the market to decide how much to charge.

However ministers expect the price to settle at a “low single figure” for each individual test, suggesting a price of £15-30 for a pack of seven.

Free tests will still be made available to some of the most vulnerable groups – likely to include the over-80s and those with immuno-suppressing conditions – in response to symptoms.

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