Covid: Free lateral flow tests in Wales until 31 July

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Free LFT's will be available for people in Wales with coronavirus symptoms until the end of July

Lateral flow tests will remain free for people in Wales with Covid symptoms until the end of July.

But the main self-isolation payment ends on 30 June although a similar scheme for social care will continue.

This comes as the latest estimates suggested another rise in infections in Wales.

England and Scotland have already ended access to free LFTs to most people, with Northern Ireland due to end free access at the end of June.

The continued availability of free LFTs to symptomatic people "should make a difference" according to Dr Sir Frank Atherton, the chief medical officer for Wales.

"Ministers here are quite clear that they prefer to remove protections and to make easements to the situation when we're on the downward turn," he said.

"So when we're on a rise of community infection, when rates are actually going up, people are coming to more serious harm, that's the time to delay those changes.

"And that's really why we have decided in Wales to continue with the testing for people who are symptomatic with coronavirus symptoms for a further month."

Self-isolation payments of £500 will end on 30 June, while the Covid-19 statutory sick pay enhancement scheme will be extended until 31 August to support social care staff to stay away from work if they test positive.

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The health minister said only people working in social care will still be eligible for self-isolation payments

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she decided to extend payments "for care workers in particular because they are in vulnerable settings".

"I think that's going to be part of our process going forward, to make sure that we are protecting the most vulnerable."

The Welsh government said continuing with LFTs would cost approximately £1m and, if self-isolation payments were to continue, given the number of positive tests, it estimated continuing this until the end of July would cost £3m-£4m.

It added that the costs of continuing with the Covid-19 statutory sick pay enhancement scheme would be about £1.5m.

How many people are testing positive with lateral flow tests?

The latest figures from Public Health Wales showed the highest number of LFTs coming back positive since the end of April.

There were 9,406 positive tests in the most recent week, with the highest number continuing to be recorded by people aged 40 to 59.

So far, there have been more than 12.5 million LFT results reported in Wales since January last year.

How much Covid infection is still out there?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated in its weekly swab survey that infections had risen slightly in the latest week.

It estimated that 68,500 people - or 2.25% - had Covid in the week ending 18 June.

The infection estimate for Wales, affecting one in 45 people, is lower than for the other UK nations and all regions of England, apart from the north east.

It said the rise was likely to be caused by infections involving the Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

Latest daily estimates show how the proportion testing positive for BA.4 and BA.5 overtook the BA.2 variant in the second week of June.

What about the future?

Dr Atherton said he anticipated further surges in the future, adding: "Whenever we have these surges, we should go back to some of those things that we know prevent transmission.

"So social distancing, face coverings in crowded places and making sure that if we have symptoms of any respiratory infection that we self-isolate.

"All of those things will help to break the chains of transmission, and I think as we go forwards, looking into the crystal ball slightly, I think we are going to see further surges of coronavirus and we will have to put those measures in place."

"But I think that they should be put in place voluntarily by people acting sensibly, because we know what to do now, rather than through legislation or mandates."

Despite the change in the law, Public Health Wales still advises that people should self isolate if they test positive or have symptoms.