NORTH East MPs have broadly welcomed the closure of the remaining Covids testing sites in the region, while some say they remain essential to monitor spikes and new variants. 

They were reacting to the closure of sites for the final time on Thursday despite rising case figures in the region.

The government announced in February that free testing for most citizens would end on March 31.

Read more: All Covid testing sites in the region to close

Free PCR tests won't be available to people with Covid symptoms from April either, except for a small number of at-risk groups.

Visitors to adult social care settings, and visitors to the NHS, prisons or places of detention will no longer be required to take a test.

The Northern Echo: Simon ClarkeSimon Clarke

Simon Clarke Conservative MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, said: "Following the great success of the UK's vaccine programme, access to new treatments and natural immunity, now is the right time to begin to manage Covid-19 like other respiratory infections.

"And while free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing provision is no longer available in England as of 1 April, people at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 and eligible for treatments will continue to get free tests to use if they develop symptoms, along with NHS and adult social care staff and those in other high-risk settings.

"Those who are at higher risk of serious illness will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms.

"Asymptomatic testing will continue in periods of high prevalence in some high risk settings where infection can spread rapidly, including for patient facing staff in health and social care and for a small number of care home visitors who provide personal care.

"It's worth remembering that we spent £2 billion on Covid tests in January alone. We have to target NHS resources more effectively in this new stage of living with Covid.

“As Government stepped up its testing regime at the height of the pandemic, and then stepped up the vaccination programme and then the booster programme, and now as we learn to live with Covid so the testing regime steps down’

"It is right that we in the UK continue on our path back to normality."

The Northern Echo: Grahame MorrisGrahame Morris

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington said: "Government Covid complacency has already cost over 150,000 lives.

"Testing is essential for monitoring and responding to Covid spikes and new variants.

"We can only hope and prey the decision to end accessible and widespread Covid testing does not end with thousands of preventable deaths.

"In the last two days over 400 people have died from covid, I would always caution the government to be careful with the nations health."

The Northern Echo: Jacob YoungJacob Young

Jacob Young, Conservative MP for Redcar, said: "We need to learn to live with Covid.

"It is of course important that people continue to get tested if they develop symptoms, but the need for mass, centralised, asymptomatic testing has been mitigated by the success of the vaccine programme and the level of natural immunity in the UK population.

"We're going back to personal responsibility and that is something I welcome."

The Northern Echo: Peter GibsonPeter Gibson

Peter Gibson, Conservative MP for Darlington, said: “The Government stepped up its testing regime at the height of the pandemic, and then stepped up the vaccination programme and then the booster programme.

"And now as we learn to live with Covid so the testing regime steps down."

A spokeswoman for the UK Health Security Agency said: “As per the government’s Living with Covid plan, from the end of 31 March all testing sites for the general public in England will cease operations, once free testing for the general public ends.

“We’d once again like to thank staff for their hard work and for playing such a vital role in our pandemic response.

“Free PCR and LFD tests will continue to be available to specific groups after 31 March and further detail is set out here.

“The government has retained the ability to enable a rapid testing response should it be needed, such as the emergence of a new variant of concern.”

Stockton Council confirmed its Wellington Square testing site will close on Thursday and from Friday, it will be used by the NHS for vaccinations two days a week.

Those who are eligible for free tests in England include: • Hospital patients who have symptoms of Covid. These patients will be given lab tests in hospital where it is required for their care or to support ongoing surveillance of the virus.

• People who are at risk of severe Covid-19 who have symptoms. These people might be eligible for Covid-19 treatments which help alleviate their symptoms. People in this group will be sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms.

• Some workers or residents of “high risk settings” who have symptoms. This includes some care home and hospice staff and residents, NHS workers and prison staff. People will also be tested before being discharged from hospital into care homes, hospices, homelessness settings and domestic abuse refuges.

• Some NHS and social care staff will continue to get free tests when they don’t have symptoms when there are high rates of infection in the community.

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