As we enter the phase of living with COVID-19, the government have laid out changes we can expect to see this Spring.
From 1st April, free Covid testing will no longer be available for most of the population, as it is now. Only the over-75s and those over 12 with weakened immune systems will continue to receive free tests, whilst everyone else will have to buy them. Lateral Flow tests will be available to buy from Boots, expected to be one of the main distributers, at £12 for a pack of 5.
Additionally, COVID passports will not be recommended for large-scale events as they currently are. They will, however, remain a recommendation in the case of international travel.
We can also expect to see everyone over 75, as well as those with weakened immune systems, to be offered an additional booster vaccine from the NHS- which will be six months after their last booster.
Whilst COVID-19 now poses significantly less risk to the general population than it did, there remain several concerns and issues to be vigilant about going forward.
Firstly, there is the fact that a new variant could emerge. It is inevitable that COVID-19 will continually mutate and evolve into new strains. Indeed, we have already seen 4 strains- the initial virus, Alpha, Delta, then Omicron. Whilst new strands may be nothing to worry about, there is a chance that one could emerge that is highly transmissible (as Omicron has been) or is able to bypass the immunity levels now established through vaccination and previous infection.
Long Covid is an additional point of concern, especially given the recent lifting of restrictions and isolation requirements. As we enter the living with COVID phase, there is a chance that potential waning immunity and spread of infection could cause more cases of Long Covid. Over 1 in 50 people currently have Long Covid, and over half a million have suffered from the symptoms for longer than a year (according to statistics published by the BBC). Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, joint pain, and dizziness- all of which can have a detrimental impact on a person’s daily life. Again, this concern can be somewhat reassured- cases are being monitored by scientists, and medications are in development.
Additionally, some people have expressed their worry that free testing will no longer be available for most. This means less people will likely self-test, which may put the vulnerable at increased risk. In response to concerns about these testing procedural changes, the Government says they will be regularly monitoring the virus for changes and take reactive measures if concerning variants resurge or emerge. Track and trace is able to be used to its full capacity again if required at a later date.
Ultimately, the future is uncertain when it comes to COVID-19. As restrictions lift and regulations change, we can only monitor the health of ourselves and those in our care, trust in the science., and remain hopeful.