Britain’s scramble for the last remaining free supplies of lateral flow tests has seen sales of the rapid devices soar five-fold in a week at High Street pharmacies.
LloydsPharmacy is already selling the Covid tests, despite free ones being available on the Government’s website until Friday.
But scores of Britons have complained about being unable to get hold of any kits through the official ordering channel over the past fortnight.
Struggles accessing the devices — which formed a major part of the UK’s Covid-fighting strategy — have allowed major retailers to cash in.
LloydsPharmacy told MailOnline sales in the week ending March 28 were 400 per cent up on the previous seven-day spell.
It also announced it was slashing the price of lateral flows, reducing the price of a pack of five rapid swabs by 20p to £9.29 — or £1.86 each — making it the cheapest on the market.
A single test sold on its own from the company will cost people £1.89, compared to £1.99 at rival Superdrug and £2 at Boots.
Meanwhile Boots is selling its five-packs for £9.80 and Superdrug is offering them for £9.79.
High street chains have been undercutting each other since February 23, just days after Boris Johnson announced mass public lateral flows would be abandoned on April 1.
Rapid tests will be rationed to hospital and care home patients and staff as part of the final stage of No10’s living with Covid strategy.
Experts have repeatedly described the move to end free testing for those no longer qualifying for them as ‘worrying’ amid rising cases.
Lateral flow tests will be rationed to the elderly and vulnerable people as part of the final stage of No10’s living with Covid strategy — leading to fears people have been stockpiling the remainder of the free swabs in the meantime. Users have been unable to order tests on the Government’s site today
High street pharmacists today continued their war of prices ahead of free lateral tests being scrapped from next week. Graphic shows: Different price options at Boots, Superdrug and LloydsPharmacy
LloydsPharmacy dropped its price for a pack of five rapid tests to £9.29 — costing £1.86 each. At the end of February, they were priced at £9.49 for the pack
Downing Street will not U-turn on its decision to scrap free Covid tests
Ministers will not backtrack on plans to scrap free Covid tests in England this week despite pleas from health chiefs, Downing Street has said.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the country was in a ‘vastly different position’ than last April when free testing was first made available, thanks to life-saving jabs and drugs.
From Friday lateral flow tests will be rationed to the elderly and vulnerable people as part of the final stage of the Government’s living with Covid strategy.
After then, people will have to pay privately for a test at pharmacies including Boots, for around £2.50 per test.
But a number of experts have called for the cut-off date to be delayed amid sky-high infection rates, including experts within No10’s own ranks.
The spokesman said: ‘There’s no plans to change our approach.
‘You’ll know the significant cost — billions of pounds we are spending every month providing free testing to the public.
‘And because of vaccines, therapeutics and other means we are now in a vastly different position to where we were when we first started providing free testing.’
Ahead of the move, a LloydsPharmacy spokesperson told MailOnline the company would be lowering its price for lateral flows slightly on previous plans.
They said: ‘From April 1 in line with the latest Government changes, lateral flow tests are no longer free across the UK.
‘LloydsPharmacy will continue to help keep the public safe and at the moment we offer lateral flow test kits in a selection of quantities to suit customer needs.
‘This includes single tests for just £1.89 or up to a pack of five for just £9.29 — £1.86 per test — available in store and online now at LloydsPharmacy.com.
‘You can find further information about our range of tests on our website, and up-to-date coronavirus information on the coronavirus page on the Government website.’
Boots has been offering its tests since the end of last month and Superdrug is also currently selling its tests online.
When the Omicron wave was collapsing in February, Boris Johnson announced that free testing would be scrapped from April.
The announcement was widely seen as a way to appease Tory backbenchers who at the time were threatening to hand in letters of no confidence in the PM following the Partygate scandal.
But in recent weeks the UK has seen a resurgence in Covid infections and hospital admissions, driven by the even more infectious BA.2 variant, which has led many experts to call for free tests to stay.
SAGE has previously warned ending the scheme, which cost up to £2bn a month, would leave the country in the dark to a fresh wave and said poor people will be hit hardest.
Experts told said pushing through with the move could leave some of the most vulnerable people in society at risk.
Professor Denis Kinane, an immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics, said: ‘I am concerned that the decision to end free tests from April 1 could leave some vulnerable groups at risk, particularly the immuno-suppressed.
‘This is worrying with the recent spike in case numbers and hospital admissions.’
Covid cases have been on the rise since the start of the month, following all restrictions being eased on Freedom Day on February 24.
Hospital admissions have also been increasing, jumping 16 per cent in a week to 2,380 on Tuesday, the latest date data is available for.
It was the highest daily total since the peak of the Omicron wave in January, with 2,386 recorded on January 10.
People trying to get tests have reported struggling to access them for weeks as the Government started rationing the kits ahead of the cut-off date amid fears people would stockpile them.
Professor Kinane added: ‘Recent stories about shortages of lateral flow tests shows demonstrate that large numbers of people still want to get tested to reassure themselves or protect their families.
‘Alongside this, the testing played a vital role in preventing transmission for those working in settings where they would come into contact with a large number of people.
‘Many sectors will be wondering if this will prevent more people from safely returning to their place of work as we begin to live with the virus.’