Tesco is selling lateral flow tests in 1,5oo stores, many without pharmacies, as a high street price war sees kits go on sale for less than the price of a takeaway coffee.
As universal free testing ended in England on Thursday, the UK’s biggest retailer said the £2 individual tests, from healthcare firm Everything Genetic, would be available in its supermarkets and, from May, across the country on its website.
James Price, Everything Genetic’s chief executive, said he believed the partnership with Tesco would bring down the cost of tests and help consumers worried about the extra cost at a time when living costs are soaring.
Everything Genetic’s goal was to make testing more accessible and bringing down the cost to “less than a price of a takeaway coffee could help realise those ambitions”, said Price. Tesco shoppers were getting access to “reliable, accurate and affordable” tests, he said.
The decision to end free testing, as the government scales back spending on pandemic-related public health measures, has been met with opposition from within the medical profession as well as unions and charities.
The Alzheimer’s Society estimates transferring the cost of devices to individuals will cost care home visitors £73 a month which it described it as a “cruel tax on care”.
Frances O’Grady, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), has argued that free tests must remain in place, stating: “Introducing charges for Covid tests in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis is both heartless and reckless.”
The GMB union has argued the government should continue to provide the tests free of charge as the public health benefit far outweighed the cost.
Rising Covid case numbers meant many people still wanted the “peace of mind” that an accurate lateral flow test devices provide. “As the kits will now be positioned in convenient Tesco retail locations up and down the country, they’ll be readily available at a moment’s notice for anyone wanting to get tested,” said Price.
Boots is also selling £2 tests – down from £2.50 last month – in 400 of its high street stores, with the FlowFlex devices also available on its website. A small discount can be had on larger pack sizes, with a box of five costing £9.80. The pricing at rival Superdrug is broadly the same. Lloyds Pharmacy said they would be pricing them at £1.86 each if bought as a pack of five.
There are cheaper deals to be found online but would-be purchasers should consult the register of approved devices to make sure the brand is on the list. The pricing of tests is not subject to any government controls but the UK Health Security Agency has promised to monitor the market for any pricing discrepancies.
The end of the taxpayer funded service tests is part of the government’s “living with Covid” plan. It has since confirmed the groups that will continue to have access to free tests including hospital patients and people living or working in “high-risk settings”, such as care homes and prisons.
Some free testing will continue during April in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Wales the cut-off is July.