News of the UK Government reportedly planning to stop free lateral flow tests except for a number of “high-risk” settings has outraged members of the public, who have described the possible move as “reckless” and “completely and utterly dangerous”.
In a report which suggests the government are more interested in testing our patience than testing for coronavirus, The Sunday Times said the proposals for free tests to be limited to places such as care homes, schools and hospitals are set to be announced by Boris Johnson “within weeks”.
A senior Whitehall source told the outlet: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody forevermore.
“It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary.”
People with symptoms would also be able to access free tests, according to the report, while the amount of contact tracing by NHS Test and Trace – a service that spent £13.5 billion up to April 2021 – could be scaled back.
The plans – which are understood to be part of the government’s move for us to “live” with the virus - are reportedly being considered despite a rising number of coronavirus cases, as the UK continues to deal with the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health and social care secretary, warned the move would be “the wrong decision at the wrong time”, while Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said if the prime minister was “really considering this” it would be “utterly wrongheaded”.
She also confirmed that the Scottish government had not signed up to the plans.
Meanwhile, Twitter users have expressed outrage at the news:
This is the one thing I think Britain has that most others don't in terms of pandemic precautions - and they're goi… https://t.co/yInfsaCMSs
The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
— Dr Rosena Allin-Khan 💙 (@Dr Rosena Allin-Khan 💙)
While a government spokesperson did not address whether access to free lateral flows would be cut back in the future, they told The Independent: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.
“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”
Speaking to Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday, Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said he did not recognise the Sunday Times report.
“This is absolutely not where we are at ... They’ll continue to be available for free,” he said.