Free Covid testing ends on Thursday (March 31) for the majority of people in Northamptonshire as NHS figures show the number of coronavirus patients in county hospitals has nearly doubled in less than a month.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid says the virus will start to be treated just like other respiratory infections such as common colds, mild flu, tonsillitis, laryngitis, and sinus infections.
Yet NHS England confirmed on Thursday 165 Covid patients were being treated for the virus on Tuesday (March 29) — up from 126 a week earlier and 85 on March 1.
Separate data shows 45 people have sadly died while being treated for Covid-19 in the county during March, including 10 in the last week at Northampton General Hospital.
There were 14 deaths attributed to flu in the last pre-pandemic year, 2019.
Sally Burns, interim director of public health for West Northamptonshire, said: “We would love to say that Covid-19 is no longer a problem, but we are still seeing hospitalisations and people dying.
“It has not gone away and with the virus still in circulation, it’s vitally important that we do what we can to protect ourselves and those around us."
Around 6,000 people have tested positive for Covid in the last week in Northamptonshire although experts fear the true number of infections is much higher as far fewer tests are being carried out even before the end of free lateral flow devices.
The daily average of home test results recorded by the NHS in Northamptonshire is now just 6.400 — the lowest since lateral flow tests were first made freely available a year ago.
Guidance from Friday says people with symptoms of Covid or other respiratory infections should "try" to stay home and "avoid contact with other people" until they feel better and have no high temperature. This includes schoolchildren.
Those who test positive for Covid should also "try" to stay home for five days.
Mr Javid said this week: "Thanks to our plan to tackle Covid, we are leading the way in learning to live with the virus.”
The government also claims that only 45 percent of those being treated in hospital were admitted because of the virus.
Although there will be no more free lateral flow tests for people without symptoms from Friday (April 1), certain groups will still be able to get them without having to pay: These are
• Patient-facing staff in the NHS • Staff in hospices and adult social care services • A small number of care home visitors • Staff in some prisons • Staff in high-risk domestic abuse refuges and homelessness settings.
These groups will be provided asymptomatic lateral flow testing during an outbreak:
• Residential special needs and disability schools• Care home staff and residents• Certain patients in hospital • People who are at higher risk of getting seriously ill • People being discharged from hospital into care homes, hospices, homelessness settings and domestic abuse refuges.
For everyone else, high street pharmacies are charging around £2 per test.