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Will the end of free Covid tests be detrimental to businesses?

Greg Devine


Hand showing negative antigen covid test with pipette and saliva

The time of free Covid tests is now officially over, and the general public will now need to purchase their testing kits. Tesco has priced a singular test at £2 and Boots are charging £2.50 for the same. This seems expensive for one test, but I think the number of tests in the box is the biggest issue.

Should you test positive, you’re legally no longer required to self-isolate—but surely most businesses would rather you did, to avoid spreading it around the office. The issue is determining when you no longer have Covid.

Previously, you were told to self-isolate for a certain length of time. Then, providing you saw a negative test at the end of this period, you could go out and about again.

Say you bought a test today, conducted it, and it came back positive. Great…but now what? To test again tomorrow, you’d need more lateral flows to hand, because going to the supermarket to buy one would be incredibly selfish. But, otherwise, how do you know if you’re safe to return to work?

Since it’s no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate, will some companies refuse to allow their workers to stay at home following a positive test? Surely this would backfire on them, as the spread of Covid around their workplace would lead to more staff being off sick. You’ll probably find some employees choosing not to report their positive test result, so that they can still come into work—especially those who would only receive statutory sick pay if they were absent. I can see this being a real issue; many people live hand to mouth, more so with the current cost-of-living crisis, and they simply cannot afford to not come to work.

Pile of COVID-19 Lateral flow tests with different results

Pile of COVID-19 Lateral flow tests with different results

It feels like Covid has magically disappeared. It hasn’t. Yes, it’s nowhere near as deadly as it was previously, but it can still be dangerous. It feels like we’re pushing ourselves back into a pandemic. The economy is battered, bruised and barely surviving, so why are we giving it further blows? The government should be doing all it can to protect the economy. I appreciate that people need to be at work, but if that means letting the virus run wild in our workplaces, what’s the point?

I already see the majority of people around me going about their lives without a mask on. Catching the virus seems easier than ever. In some cases, we won’t even know we’ve got it, if we aren’t testing due to the cost of the tests. The 7-day average infection rate currently sits at 60,000, which will no doubt drop soon—not because people aren’t carrying Covid, but because they’re not testing anymore.

Many businesses cannot afford to lose even one member of staff at the moment, but if multiple members of staff are absent, thanks to someone bringing Covid into the workplace, there are worse scenarios. There have been calls for businesses to supply lateral flow tests in the same way they’re required to supply any PPE their employees need to carry out their role. This seems a mutually beneficial solution. Employees wouldn’t have to cover the expense of test kits, just to find out if they’re safe to work, and employers would hopefully avoid any outbreaks in their business and keep more staff in work who they know for sure are Covid-free.

To expect employees to cover the cost of lateral flow tests is essentially requiring them to pay to go to work, which seems incredibly immoral. Yes, businesses are struggling, but many are reporting solid profits, so why not give back to the staff members who make those profits possible by paying for test kits?

It seems we are now treating Covid as a cold or flu, which, depending on your point of view relating to the severity of the virus currently, will either please or scare you. Perhaps you’re like me, and you just don’t know what to think anymore.

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