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How will the end to free Covid-19 testing affect student life?

Test twice a week; test before visiting a crowded place; test before meeting or living with clinically vulnerable people; test if you develop Covid-19 symptoms or feel unwell; test to protect yourself and others; test, test, test… 

For the last two years, we've constantly been instructed to do everything that we possibly can to minimise the spread of Covid-19 and protect the NHS and the livelihoods of those around us. We've stayed at home, we've worn face masks and socially distanced; we've avoided crowds and mass gatherings, missed loved ones and stood and watched as the world broke down. There's no doubt that we've come a long way since the beginning of the pandemic and are now starting to learn to live with Covid-19, but what does that truly mean after we've witnessed a global population suffer immensely? With the cessation of free Covid-19 testing having commenced on 1 April, what is the real cost of paying for a Covid-19 test?

"What is the real cost of paying for a Covid-19 test?"

For many students, financial struggles are a large part of reality and much more serious than the stereotypes and jokes surrounding the “poor” student, who can only afford to eat pasta and relies heavily on a student loan. Gas and electricity prices are rising, rent in the West End of Glasgow is already extortionate and putting a balanced and nutritious meal on the table comes at an unfortunate cost. With all this in mind, when Boots announced that it will start selling Covid-19 lateral flow tests for £5.99 each or four for £17 online, it shouldn't come as a surprise that tests are going to be one of the last things many students will be willing to budget for. Arguably, students are the ones who are most affected by the end to free testing and the consequences of that could be massive. 

Testing has allowed us the freedom to live our lives again and worry less about infecting our nearest and dearest. However, a now lack of affordable testing is almost taking one step back and will shortly add additional stress to student life, which we could undoubtedly live without. Without pointing fingers, student culture has caused us to be one of the demographics who are out mixing with the most amount of people; we don’t necessarily put our personal health and safety at the forefront of our minds. Being able to detect the virus easily ourselves was one of our saving graces in protecting others, however, that has come to a halt. The partying, the celebrations, the going out – none of that will stop, but those at high-risk are now expected to play a riskier game than ever before. 

"Without pointing fingers, student culture has caused us to be one of the demographics who are out mixing with the most amount of people..."

Money doesn't grow on trees and low-paid hospitality jobs are certainly not privy to this if it does. In reality, students are not going to be able to afford to take a Covid-19 test every time they want to socialise or go to the library or lectures, especially when the cost of a Covid-19 test is nearly the same as the hourly minimum wage. Instead, they'll be jumping on the “ignorance is bliss” bandwagon and hoping for the best. However, feeling safe enough to attend class shouldn't be considered a luxury. It's a basic necessity at university and in some cases will be the deciding factor of a degree or no degree. Limited access to free testing, for those at high-risk, is essentially forcing students to choose between their education and their health – it’s frustrating when the solution, which has already been present, is now removed. We're just increasing the attainment and accessibility gap again – those who have money can live on, those who don't fall behind. Living with Covid-19 may not be as straightforward as we’d hoped for.

As the summer approaches and students begin to move back home or live carefree without deadlines for a couple of months, the subconscious stress will increase. Even with free testing, students have already experienced worry about bringing Covid-19 home to their families. It's the unpredictability of never knowing what to expect and the ability of catching Covid-19 from nowhere and everywhere. It's difficult to know just now exactly what the price of non-free testing will be for students, but at the moment, we just need to be a little bit more considerate and aware of the concerns of others around us. 


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