Everyone in England will be given access to two rapid coronavirus tests a week from Friday, under an extension of the government’s testing program.
The lateral flow kits, which can provide results in around 30 minutes, will be available for free at testing sites, pharmacies and through the post.
The health secretary said it would help squash any outbreaks as lockdown eases. But critics of the program say it risks becoming a “scandalous” waste of money.
It comes as Boris Johnson is due to meet the cabinet to sign off the next stage of lockdown easing in England, which will see non-essential shops reopen and pubs and restaurants start serving outdoors from 12 April.
Later, the prime minister will hold a Downing Street briefing, where he is expected to confirm countries will be graded under a traffic light system when international leisure travel resumes.
He is also set to outline plans for coronavirus passports – recording whether people had been vaccinated, recently tested negative or had natural immunity – as a means of enabling mass-audience events to take place in the future.
However, dozens of MPs oppose the use of Covid passports and Johnson faces the prospect of a rebellion among a number of senior Conservatives if he proceeds with them.
Lateral flow tests are already offered to school children and their families plus those who have to leave home for work.
The prime minister hailed the plan to offer everyone testing from 9 April, saying: “As we continue to make good progress on our vaccine program and with our road map cautiously easing restrictions under way, regular rapid testing is even more important to make sure those efforts are not wasted.”
Health minister Edward Argar told BBC Breakfast he expected the lateral flow tests to be used by those returning to work in the coming weeks as the “economy starts opening up again”.
He said fewer than one in every 1,000 lateral flow tests gave a false positive result and refused to set an “arbitrary” date for when testing would end.
Argar said the tests would be paid for as part of NHS Test and Trace’s funding of £37bn over two years, with 80% of that expected to be used for testing.