The final rush for free lateral flows?

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Britons have started to plunder the final stocks of free lateral flow tests ahead of them being axed in a fortnight, leaving scores complaining that they can’t get any. 

One train driver said they’d spent the past three days failing to get hold of any of the rapid swabs. Others fumed they had to fill out pages of personal details only to discover none were available.

Lateral flows will no longer be free in England from April 1, as part of Boris Johnson’s ‘Living With Covid’ strategy. Stocks will be limited to vulnerable people. High street giants such as Boots and Superdrug will sell the kits for as little as £2. 

Scientists questioned the decision to scrap free mass testing, saying the move was premature and that swabbing was essential to keep tabs on any future flare-ups and help curb the spread of Covid. 

But business leaders, Tory MPs and some experts all backed Boris Johnson’s decision to scale back the expensive  programme, which the Prime Minister claimed cost up to £2billion a month.

Scotland will stop handing out free lateral flow tests in May, while Wales will keep the swabs available until the end of June. Northern Ireland is yet to iron out its plans.

The above shows the number of lateral flow tests registered in England every day. It reveals that the number done each day is beginning to rise again, alongside an uptick in Covid cases

The above shows the number of lateral flow tests registered in England every day. It reveals that the number done each day is beginning to rise again, alongside an uptick in Covid cases 

Britons trying to get hold of free lateral flow tests are often greeted with this message on the Government site

Britons trying to get hold of free lateral flow tests are often greeted with this message on the Government site 

The Government made more free lateral flow tests available at 7am today

But by 9.51am, just three hours later, they had already run out

The above shows alerts for when lateral flows are available to order online. It reveals today’s batch went out of stock just three hours after they were released

The above tweets appear to be from worried Britons who are struggling to get hold of free lateral flow tests

The above tweets appear to be from worried Britons who are struggling to get hold of free lateral flow tests

Stockpilers shared pictures of their towers of free NHS lateral flow tests that cost £2billion a month and are being phased out from April 1

Stockpilers shared pictures of their towers of free NHS lateral flow tests that cost £2billion a month and are being phased out from April 1

Stockpilers shared pictures of their towers of free NHS lateral flow tests that are being phased out from April 1 last month

Fury as Nicola Sturgeon KEEPS Scotland’s mask laws in place for WEEKS longer than expected 

Nicola Sturgeon sparked fury yesterday as she U-turned on plans to remove Scotland’s last remaining Covid laws by keeping mask rules in place.

The First Minister told Holyrood the face covering restrictions would be kept for at least two more weeks amid a spike in cases.

She had been under pressure to bring Scotland into line with England by scrapping all remaining social restrictions, including laws demanding masks be worn indoors in public places.

Other measures still in place, like forcing businesses to collect customer contact details, next Monday as planned.

The First Minister also confirmed plans to stop widespread Covid testing by the end of April.

Opponents had urged the First Minister not to backtrack but chief medical officer Sir Gregor Smith had advised a cautious approach amid concern over a recent rise in case numbers. 

One Twitter account, created to ping out alerts when lateral flows are in and out of stock, claimed that today’s pile ran out at 9.51am. Kits for home delivery were replenished shortly after 7am, it said.  

A similar trend has emerged over the past few days, with swab supplies drying up close to 10am all week. 

Kits also regularly ran out at the height of the Omicron wave, when millions were ordering the swabs in order to ensure they were free of Covid. 

Some Britons began to brag of stockpiling ‘towers’ of the boxes containing seven kits at a time, even as the official website showed none were available for order.

Ministers then began to ration deliveries, tweaking rules to allow people to only order them every 72 hours instead of the initial 24 hours offered.

On the latest shortage, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) admitted supplies may become temporarily unavailable but said it was working hard to keep replenishing stocks. 

A spokesman said: ‘To ensure an even distribution of lateral flow tests across the country, people can order one pack of seven tests within a 72 hour period from gov.uk. 

‘This reflects the recent changes to testing as outlined in the Living with COVID plan.

‘We would encourage people to only order test kits if they need them and only after they have used up any kits they already have at home.’

It comes after MailOnline this week revealed how health officials admitted that the Covid testing regime did not cost £2billion-a-month. 

Mr Johnson told MPs in February the Test and Trace programme cost that amount ‘in January alone’ at the height of the Omicron wave. 

UKHSA bosses later sneaked out a document to say the figure quoted by the PM was just a ‘volatile’ estimate and ‘may not reflect the true expenditure’.

Senior officials then wrongly portrayed the £2bn as the monthly cost, with Business Minister Paul Scully saying on LBC the day after the PM’s statement that the country could not bear the ongoing testing bill.

He said: ‘The PM was right when he said yesterday that we clearly can’t go on forever paying £2billion a month for the testing regime. You could only imagine what other things that money may be spent on.’

MPs said the UKHSA document, published on March 3 during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, raised questions about the Government’s decision to axe free swabs.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, told MailOnline: ‘If the financial justification ministers have used for dropping free testing is inaccurate, it exposes this was an ideological decision driven by a PM desperate to change headlines.’

Mr Johnson’s announcement on testing and dropping restrictions came as he faced intense pressure following a series of revelations about lockdown-busting parties in No10.

It was widely seen as a political move to appease libertarian backbench Tory MPs who opposed Covid restrictions in an attempt to avoid a flurry of no confidence votes.

Critics said scrapping free testing and scaling down other Covid surveillance programmes was like ‘turning off the headlights at the first sign of dawn’.

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