Everyone in England is to be offered free coronavirus tests twice a week as ministers prepare for the next level of loosening lockdown restrictions.
The lateral flow tests, which can give results in about 30 minutes, will be available starting Friday whether or not people have symptoms.
The announcement comes as Boris Johnson is due to meet senior ministers on Monday to retire the next leg of the roadmap.
Participants can receive a test through a home ordering service, a test program at work or school, or by pickup at a local test location.
The prime minister said the program would help stop new outbreaks and allow authorities to identify and control new variants of the disease.
“As we continue to make good progress on our vaccination program and our roadmap is carefully easing restrictions, regular rapid tests are even more important to ensure that this effort is not wasted,” he said.
“That’s why we’re now running free, rapid tests for everyone across England. This helps us stop outbreaks on their trail so we can see the people we love and do the things we enjoy again. “
Mr Johnson will chair a virtual meeting of the Covid O committee before briefing the entire cabinet of the arrangements for the final phase of the unblocking, which will reopen non-essential stores in England from April 12th.
He will then be setting out the details at a press conference on Downing Street, where he is expected to say more about the plans announced over the weekend for Covid certificates for mass gatherings from sporting events to nightclubs.
He will also outline the government’s approach to lifting foreign vacation restrictions from May 17th.
According to the government’s schedule, pubs and restaurants will be able to serve customers outdoors starting next week, while hairdressers, nail salons, gyms and libraries, and non-essential retail stores, may reopen.
While MPs are relieved at the prospect of the economy reopening, some are concerned about the proposals for the “Covid Status Certification” system known as “vaccine passports”.
Ministers insist that the certificates – which could be a mobile phone app or a paper document – are never needed for essential services such as supermarkets, public transport or general practitioners’ offices.
Also, at least initially, they won’t need to go to pubs or restaurants when they start serving again.
Ministers believe the program will be most useful in managing the risks when there are large numbers of people in close proximity, such as music festivals, sports games and nightclubs.
However, more than 40 Tory MPs have signed a bipartisan letter against vaccination passports, while Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer has labeled them “un-British,” raising the prospect of a possible defeat for the government if, as expected, a commons – Voting takes place.
Sir Graham Brady, the influential chairman of the Backbench Tory 1922 Committee, wrote in The Daily Telegraph that vaccination records were “intrusive, costly and unnecessary.”
Under the plans set out over the weekend, the certificates are expected to show whether a person has received the vaccine, has recently tested negative for the virus, or whether their “natural immunity” has tested positive in the past six months.
The government plans to try a number of events over the coming weeks, including the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theater in Sheffield and the culmination of the FA Cup Final on May 15 at Wembley.
Initially, no certificates will be used, although viewers will need to be tested for Covid-19 both before and after the event.
Mr Johnson will also use the press conference – one year to the day he was hospitalized with Covid-19 – to provide further details of the framework for easing international travel restrictions ahead of the Global Travel Task Force’s report due on Due April 12.
While the ban on foreign travel from England won’t be lifted until May 17, Downing Street has announced that if the rules are relaxed, there will be a risk-based traffic light system with red, amber and green ratings for countries around the world.
Travelers arriving from green rated countries do not need to isolate themselves, although pre- and post-departure testing is still required.
For those classified as amber or red, the restrictions remain unchanged as they are required upon arrival to isolate or enter quarantine.
Officials have made it clear that there will be no announcement this week as to which country is on which list – a decision criticized by tourism industry leaders.
Martyn Sumners, executive director of the Association of Independent Tour Operators, told The Times, “The fact that we don’t know which countries are allowed to travel until next month will make it very difficult to get programs up and running.”
Hairdressers and hairdressers in Scotland can reopen from Monday, a week earlier than in England.
Some non-essential stores may be reopened, including garden centers and homeware stores, while students and college students may return to face-to-face tuition and outdoor contact sports for teens 12-17 years old may resume.