The health ministry will scrap free antigen rapid tests for the general population from August 1, although those under 16 and some other population groups will still be entitled to them, it announced on Monday while setting the maximum price for the tests in the private sector at €10.

In a Q&A on the issue released on Monday, the ministry said that in line with the July 2 cabinet decision, free rapid tests for coronavirus will be scrapped. Members of the public wishing to take the test to obtain a SafePass can do so only at licensed clinical labs and pharmacies.

While the move had previously been announced and was widely expected it remains controversial.

Main opposition party Akel issued an announcement on Monday calling on the government to reverse its decision, saying that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) both call for free access for tests.

“In light of the above, we again call on the government to reverse and review its decision to scrap free rapid tests and harmonise its policy with that of the WHO and ECDC advice,” Akel’s announcement read.

In terms of the new procedures, the health ministry said it has adopted measures to check and monitor the knowledge required and the medical equipment used since only products of specific manufacturers can be used to obtain the European Digital Certificate under an agreement among EU member states.

Labs and pharmacies that do not comply with the requirements will lose their authorisation to carry out the tests and be fined, it added.

Other medical centres and/or clinical labs and pharmacies that carry out rapid tests with mobile units will not be able to issue a SafePass and/or a European Digital Certificate, it clarified.

The maximum price for the tests was set by cabinet at €10.

The health ministry’s free rapid test programme will continue for those who cannot be vaccinated.

Also members of the general public will not be able to visit the mobile units and pay for a test, with the ministry stressing that the units will serve only those groups of the population who are entitled to free tests. These units are not authorised to receive money from the members of the public, it added.

The free tests at the ministry’s mobile units will be offered to the following population groups, on presentation of ID and confirmatory documentation:

  • minors aged up to 16 who do not currently have the option to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
  • children aged 16 and 17 whose parents/guardians do not consent to them being vaccinated.
  • everyone aged 16 and over who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, on presentation of a medical certificate.
  • Pregnant women on presentation of a medical certificate from their gynecologist confirming that vaccination is not recommended.
  • People who have received the first dose of the vaccine and for the three weeks require a test to secure a SafePass. The vaccination card must be presented for confirmation.
  • People who have completed their vaccination but wish to take the test. Again, they must present their vaccination card.

Testing will continue in closed facilities, care homes and other spaces housing people at high risk and who belong to vulnerable groups of the population.

In order to obtain a SafePass, everyone aged 12 and over who does not have a vaccination certificate or proof of having recovered from Covid-19 in the past 180 days must do a rapid or PCR test every 72 hours.