The Treasury and Noumber 10 Downing Street are reportedly divided on when to end mass free Covid testing, with some senior ministers concerned over its ongoing cost.
Discussions are being held in Government to scale back the initiative that allows everyone to get a free lateral flow test, and some people a free PCR test, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Under the new system being proposed, free tests may only be available to those in high-risk settings such as hospitals, care homes and schools – as well as people showing symptoms of Covid-19.
Details of a new system are reportedly yet to be agreed, but it is being discussed ahead of next month’s budget with some fearing taxes would have to rise in order to continue mass testing.
Discussions are being held in Government to scale back the initiative that allows everyone to get a free lateral flow test, and some people a free PCR test, according to The Daily Telegraph. Pictured: A health worker handles a lateral flow samples in Beckenham (file photo)
With both Germany and France ending universal testing this month, the UK is an outlier on the issue among countries in western Europe.
Britain also last month carried out 4,022 tests per 1,000 people – more than Spain and Germany according to figures from Our World in Data.
The cost of doing so is huge, with The Telegraph citing one source saying it costs the equivalent of adding 1p to income tax, with some fearing that taxes would have to be raised should the free testing continue.
The Treasury is reportedly backing the case for scaling back free testing, pointing to the fact that 90 percent of adults in the UK have been given at least one Covid jab.
However, other parts of the Government are reportedly reluctant to scale back testing heading into autumn and winter, with experts unsure whether coronavirus cases will surge during the colder months.
Whitehall is reportedly making the case for contacts of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 should be required to take a test in order to avoid self isolation, although arguments for this have been overruled in the past.
Number 10 Downing Street and the Treasury are reportedly divided over whether to end the free covid tests scheme. Pictured left: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and right, Chancellor Rishi Sunak – both at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester this week
The newspaper report says that of the four government departments involved in key Covid-19 decision making, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office both back changing the system soon.
Number 10 and the Health and Social Care department meanwhile are more cautious.
The issue is set to be discussed in spending review negotiations taking place between the Treasury and the Health and Social Care Department, with talks set to intensify in the coming weeks ahead of the budget on October 27.
It is unclear where Prime Minister Boris Johnson stands on the issue, but he is expected to have the final say on whether to change free testing or not, according to the report.
Downing Street, according to The Telegraph, is playing down the possibility of mass free testing ending over winter, amid on-going Covid-19 uncertainty.
The key Government strategy for countering the virus has so far cost many billions of pounds. NHS Test and Trace had a two-year budget of £37 million according to public accounts published in March.
Under the current system, people in Britain can get an unlimited number of free lateral flow tests (pictured), with the public being urged to get tested twice a week
In June, the National Audit Office said that 691 million lateral flow tests had been distributed to the public – the results of almost 600 million of which had not been registered, meaning it was not known if they had been used.
Critics of the policy, pointing to new daily cases still being above 36,000, argue that mass testing has not led to a reduction in infections.
Under the current system, people in Britain can get an unlimited number of free lateral flow tests, with the public being urged to get tested twice a week.
Those who show symptoms can also put in a request for a free PCR test, with PCR tests being both more costly and more reliable.
The possibility of scrapping the scheme comes as ministers are also reportedly considering scrapping hotel quarantine, ending the requirement for some travellers to pay over £2,000 to self-isolate on their arrival in the country.
On Friday, Britain recorded 127 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, a slight increase on a day earlier when 122 people died, government data showed.
The figures also showed that 36,060 new COVID cases on Friday, lower than a day earlier when 40,701 were recorded.
Meanwhile, the prevalence of infections in England increased to around 1 in 70 people in the week ending Oct 2, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday, reaching its highest level since the end of August.
The ONS said that prevalence of infections had risen for its second straight week, having been at 1 in 85 people in the previous week.
The ONS said that again, the percentage of people testing positive was highest in young people at secondary school.
In that category, 6.93% children tested positive for COVID-19, more than 1 in 15, compared to 4.58% in the previous week.
Schools in England have been open for around a month since the summer break, and some epidemiologists have highlighted concern about rising cases among children, although it is yet to translate into a sustained increase in infections for the population more broadly.
The ONS last reported 1 in 70 people infected with COVID-19 in the week ending August 27, before children in England returned to school.
The last time it was higher than that level was in the week ending July 25, when an estimated 1 in 65 people had COVID-19 following a spike around the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championships.
Source: Daily Mail UK