NHS free lateral flow test kit LFT covid coronavirus

Store owners have warned that removing free lateral flow Covid-19 tests will create operational and safety issues, and increase costs for retailers.

On 21 February, prime minister Boris Johnson announced provision of free tests in England would end on 1 April, with reports that supplies are already being ‘rationed’.

NFRN member Julia Bywater, of Bywater News Ltd in Dudley, was one of several NFRN members to state her opposition to the change, claiming it will “put her vulnerable staff at risk”.

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She added: “One of my staff members is vulnerable, so throughout the pandemic we have always been careful to make sure she is protected.

“I have been advising all my staff members to test regularly and provide a negative result before coming into work. We have been running this system within our bubble to ensure the safety of all my staff members.”

When asked how she will be ensuring vulnerable staff members are kept safe, Bywater said she will be advising her staff to stock up on lateral flow tests and will aim to ensure Covid-19 restrictions continue to be strictly implemented in the store.

“We will be making sure to be extra vigilant with sanitising all our fridge doors, counters and tills, and will be keeping barriers in place and advising that masks be worn,” she added.

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Yorkshire district member Stephen Hunter, of Old Road News in Bradford, West Yorkshire, agreed with Bywater that the removal of free lateral flow tests would lead to a “risk of an increase of positive cases”.

He said: “Staff will be at more risk of testing positive, and compliancy with testing will decrease as members of the public will not want to spend money to test regularly.

“As retailers, we must continue to act cautiously to protect staff and customers. We have continued to display the NFRN’s Covid-19-restriction posters in the store, and are advising that masks continue to be worn.”

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NFRN member Hitendra Thakrar, of Premier Express in Bolton, added: “The removal of free tests is a concern for retailers.”

Earlier this week, the prime minister also confirmed mandatory self-isolation would be scrapped on 24 February alongside all other restrictions in England. Explaining his ‘living with Covid plan’ to Parliament, Johnson said: “People will be asked to exercise personal responsibility just as we encourage people who may have flu to be considerate to others.”

Find out more on our coronavirus information hub for retailers