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Michael Gove Suggests That Free Lateral Flow Tests Will Soon Be Dropped

Michael Gove Suggests That Free Lateral Flow Tests Will Soon Be Dropped
4 min read

Michael Gove has dropped a major hint that free lateral flow tests will be phased out in the coming the months, just a day after his Cabinet colleague Nadhim Zahawi sought to shoot down the suggestion.

Gove, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, on Monday faced questions over a Sunday Times report that free lateral flow tests will be scaled back as part of plans to live with the coronavirus that will be detailed by Boris Johnson in the coming weeks.

The report said officials were looking at ending the free provision of lateral flow tests to the general public, but keeping them in place for high-risk settings like hospitals, care homes, and schools.

Zahawi, the Secretary of State for Education, dismissed the claim only yesterday. "It is absolutely not where we are at," he told several news outlets. 

But this morning, Gove did not deny that free lateral flow tests would in fact soon be phased out, saying ministers would continue to provide them "as long as we need them". 

In a major hint that they could be dropped once the Omicron wave subsides, he told Sky News the country was "moving to a situation" where it was ready to live with the coronavirus.

"It is the case that in this country lateral flows are free, unlike in many other jurisdictions," Gove said.

"They are a vital tool in making sure that we can curb the spread of the infection and also that people who need to isolate do so.

"But we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating."

He stressed, however, that the government had not yet reached the point where it could safely drop tools for fighting Covid like free lateral flow tests, as Omicron continues to drive large numbers of daily Covid cases.

"But, it is absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet," Gove continued.

"There will be some difficult weeks ahead and that is why we all need to continue to test, continue — if we are positive — to isolate, and continue broadly to support the NHS as it goes through a challenging period but one in which the frontline professionals are doing an amazing job."

Later in the morning, Prime Minister Johnson didn't deny that free lateral flow tests would eventually be phased out, telling reporters they would remain available to the public "for as long as it's necessary" and that "we will use them as long as they are very important".

He added that ministers could soon decide to reduce the period that people who test positive for Covid must self-isolate from seven days to five.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday said reducing the self-isolation period would "certainly help mitigate" against staff absences. 

"There's a very similar argument to be had about the quarantine period and whether to come down from seven days to five days," Johnson said this morning, adding: “We’re looking at that and we’ll act according to the science."

The remarks accompany a growing suggestion that the the government's decision to not introduce more Covid restrictions in the last few weeks could pay off.

While Omicron continues to infect large numbers of people, there is rising confidence among health leaders that it will not push the NHS to point where further restrictions are necessary, as the number of people being hospitalised remains at a manageable level.

NHS chiefs belief hospital admissions in London have already peaked and that most hospitals elsewhere in the country will be able to cope with the highly-transmissable variant, The Times reports.

Chris Hopson, the Chief Executive of NHS Providers, told the newspaper that the NHS "front line will hold" in the face of the variant first discovered in South Africa.

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