Rapid Covid Test

It comes after the Sunday Times reported free tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals, schools and people with symptoms

The Association of Convenience Stores has expressed concern that independent retailers will be stripped of free access to lateral flow tests following rumblings that the service to the public could be axed.

It comes after the Sunday Times reported free tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals, schools and people with symptoms under government plans for “living with Covid”.

This was later denied by education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, insisting there are no plans to end the provision of free rapid testing, while housing secretary Michael Gove said it will be free for “as long as we need them”.

However, ACS CEO James Lowman pointed to Gove’s denials as being vague to who that applies to.

”I’m worried that, consciously or unconsciously, we’re heading towards home lateral flow testing being restricted or unavailable for local shop colleagues and many other people and businesses we trade with,” he said.

“At some point, free home lateral flow tests will be phased out and I hope they are because that will be a sign that the pandemic is becoming a far less threatening and intrusive part of our lives.

“But of course, I want local shop colleagues to be able to use these tests to find out if they have Covid so we can minimise outbreaks among store teams which lead to operational problems [which], at their most extreme, mean stores having to cut back hours or restrict services.”

Lowman added that he was already concerned over the public’s free access to rapid testing when the government announced on 4 January it would provide 100,000 critical workers in England with free lateral flow tests to help keep essential services and supply chains running.

“Why would you need to announce that if everyone can get a free lateral flow test to do at home anyway? Maybe I’m a born cynic, maybe I’ve spent too much time working with government, but this set alarm bells ringing for me,” said Lowman. 

Workers covered by the scheme will include those in critical national infrastructure, national security, transport, and food distribution and processing.

As Lowman points out: “Supermarkets can’t dedicate space and people to testing and can’t process the number of tests to make it worthwhile, never mind convenience stores.  

“It’s an uncomfortable reminder of the government’s tendency to see a problem as being solved by helping a handful of big businesses. We’ve battled this throughout the pandemic, with some success and with help from some brilliant ministers and officials who have thought small first and recognised how important local shops are.

“But I’m worried the government will point to the workplace testing scheme and tick the box, say “job done” and claim food supply has been protected. That would be a complacent and insufficient response. As long as asymptomatic testing is needed, it’s needed for everyone, at very least for all those working in essential businesses like convenience stores.”