NEWS DIGEST 09.01.2022: UK gov’t to stop free lateral flow tests?

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Both the Labour Party and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have warned Boris Johnson against the move after it was reported tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms. The government has no plans to scale back free lateral flow tests to high risk settings, a cabinet minister has told Sky News. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi dismissed a report in the Sunday Times, saying he did “not recognise” the story that the tests could be limited to care homes, hospitals and schools, and people with symptoms – COVID-19: ‘Absolutely’ no plans to scale back free lateral flow tests, Zahawi says (Sky News – UK)

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The distribution of free lateral flow tests could end as part of a government strategy to start living with Covid, according to the Sunday Times. The paper says Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce new plans within weeks, with free tests potentially only being provided in high-risk settings, such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and for those with symptoms. The paper quotes a Whitehall source as saying: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody.” The Observer has spoken with the former chairman of the UK’s vaccine taskforce, who says Covid should be treated as an endemic virus similar to the flu. Dr Clive Dix said: “Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end.” He said it was time to “manage disease, not virus spread”, with the main objective being stopping the spread of severe disease in vulnerable groups. It comes after the UK reached the grim milestone of 150,000 deaths with Covid – Newspaper headlines: ‘End of free lateral flow tests’ and ‘stop mass jabs’ (BBC News – The Papers)

A UK Government minister said this morning that he did “not recognise” the claims and insisted the government remains committed to testing as part of plans to tackle Covid. The report said that free lateral flow tests – which have cost the UK Government £6 billion – could not go on “for evermore”. The report quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore. It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.” Health experts and government officials have urged people to take lateral flow tests at least twice a week – and just before socialising with others outside of their household. Asked if there were any plans to stop free lateral flow tests, Mr Zahawi said “Absolutely not” – Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon slams reports that UK Government set to end free lateral flow tests (The Scotsman – News – Politics)

The Sunday Times also said the announcement, which could come within weeks, may include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system. The Scottish Government accesses lateral flow tests that are procured by the UK Government on behalf of all four nations, and it pays for them via funding arrangements as part of the UK-wide national testing programme. Government sources disputed the report and said it was too early to say what the future holds for free lateral flows. The rapid tests were made available to everyone in England, crucially including those without symptoms, in April. A Government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, and instead said: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them”Boris Johnson warned against scaling back free lateral flow tests (Evening Standard – News – UK)

Free lateral flow tests face the axe under plans for living with Covid which Boris Johnson will announce within weeks. More than £6 billion of public money has been spent on mass testing using the devices. The new system could mean free tests being provided only in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms. A senior Whitehall source said: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore” “It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it”End of free lateral flow tests as country told to live with Covid (The Sunday Times)

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