Scrapping free Covid lateral flow tests will add a “tax on caring” bill of £500 to more than 130,000 people in Essex, a council leader has said.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats estimates that across Essex, around 133,000 people take regular Covid tests.

Impact by Essex district of scrapping free lateral flow tests

They estimate that every week:

Almost 14,300 people take regular Covid tests in the Chelmsford City Council area;

More than 8,000 people will be out of pocket in Uttlesford;

13,000 people will be affected in Braintree;

11,500 will be affected in Basildon;

Around 5,200 will be affected in Brentwood;

18,000 will be impacted in Colchester;

More than 5,000 will be impacted in Castle Point;

More than 7,000 could be affected in Epping Forest;

More than 5,500 will have to pay in Harlow;

More than 4,700 are set to be affected in Maldon;

More than 6,100 people will be affected in Rochford;

Nearly 13,000 will be impacted in Tendring.

The numbers include people who take tests to protect their elderly relatives and friends, or vulnerable workers who work in people-facing industries such as hospitality and are concerned about their health.

Analysis by the Liberal Democrats estimates that people who take on average two tests a week face paying £534 a year, assuming lateral flow tests cost around £5.80 each.

These people are part of the almost 4 million across England facing costs of over £500 a year after the decision was taken to scrap lateral flow tests.

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said the move will be of particular concern for the 9,615 people in Chelmsford previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable.

Cllr Robinson said: “Charging people in Chelmsford for the tests they need to safely see vulnerable loved ones is a tax on caring, that risks leaving thousands in this area in lockdown by stealth.

“It means vulnerable people in our community will see fewer loved ones and will be able to enjoy less of their lives. It is unfair and unjust.

“Our Conservative MPs need to make their voice heard and get behind scrapping these plans, to stop our residents who are already being hit with a cost of living crisis being faced with more costs and potentially being unable to access their vital support networks.

“Throughout the pandemic, our residents have been trying hard to do the right thing and keep others safe. The Government should not be making that harder.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of ensuring people who continue to be at higher risk from Covid-19 receive the right advice and interventions.

“After April 1, 2022, limited symptomatic testing will still be made available for a small number of at-risk groups – the government will set out further details on which groups will be eligible.

“Vaccines are the best way we can protect ourselves from the virus and we continue to urge all those eligible to come forward.”