When should you use lateral flow tests when kits are no longer free in the UK?

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Over the past year, we've all turned to lateral flow tests (LFTs) every time we've felt poorly to make sure we're not experiencing a Covid symptom.

These small plastic cartridges, which have been free and easily accessible, allowed us to test ourselves at home and find out if we need to stay at home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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However, from Friday April 1, lateral flow tests will no longer be free of charge in England for most people – with the exception of the over-75s and people aged over 12 with weakened immune systems.

NHS staff who have patient contact, care home residents and those working in high-risk environments like care homes and prisons will still be entitled to get free LFTs, while patients who are leaving hospital to go into hospices or care homes, as well as hospital patients who need a PCR test before their treatment, will be able to get free tests still.

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The charge on tests will mean that people may not use LFTs as often as they have been. Now that the use of LTFs will be limited, here are circumstances where testing is safer than not.

When to use LFTs now that kits are not free?

When should you use lateral flow tests when kits are no longer free in the UK?

Global Tech News Daily

LFTS will no longer be free for most people in England ( Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

With LFTs no longer being free, people may not use them for every symptom they suspect is Covid. But here's when it's better to test to protect others:

Visiting vulnerable friends or family

Doing a lateral flow just before visiting someone who is vulnerable to infection can help reduce the risk of transmission.

But be aware that a negative LFT doesn't always mean you don't have the virus. You can infectious without symptoms or before symptoms develop, and the tests might miss this.

Testing before visiting vulnerable people may not give you 100% assurance that you won't infect them, but testing is still the better option.

Besides testing, it's also advised to make sure that both parties are fully vaccinated and for you to limit your social exposure for five days before the visit if possible. Also practise other measures like wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing.

Experiencing cold-like symptoms

The most common symptoms related to the dominant Omicron variant are a runny nose, headaches, sneezing, sore throat and fatigue, all of which are quite similar to symptoms of a cold.

A positive LFT can confirm if these symptoms are due to Covid, although virus levels may not be high enough in the first few days of infection for accurate test results.

This means you might be infectious within the first few days of symptoms yet testing negative on LFT.

So it's better not to waste your tests when you first feel any Covid-like symptoms – test on day two or three instead.

However, it's recommended that you stay home as soon as you start experiencing symptoms, even before taking a test.

Exposure to infected person

When should you use lateral flow tests when kits are no longer free in the UK?

Don't waste your LFTs as soon as you experience symptoms ( Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

There is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate if you've been in close contact with someone who has Covid, but the government still recommends that you work from home and minimise contact with people where possible.

While testing is advised in some circumstances, doing it in the first few days of exposure is a waste of time and LFTs, as it may not be detectable yet.

If you don't develop any symptoms after exposure to an infected person, you can use your LFTs if you're planning to visit any vulnerable people in the following 10 days.

Meanwhile, health and care workers are advised to follow the testing guidelines of their organisation.

Returning to school or work after Covid

If you've been infected and chosen to self-isolate to protect others, it's best to use LFTs if you're feeling well enough.

Two consecutive negative tests means that you can highly confident that you are no longer infectious and can return to life as normal.

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