Nadhim Zahawi Says There Are No Plans To Scrap Free Lateral Flow Tests
The government has no immediate plans to scrap free lateral flow tests, according to Nadhim Zahawi, the Secretary of State for Education.
Zahawi on Sunday told Sky News he was "puzzled" by a story published by The Sunday Times claiming that lateral flow tests will be scaled back as part of plans to live with the coronavirus.
The report said Boris Johnson would confirm the decision in the coming weeks and quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying the UK would soon move to scenario whereby there is "less testing".
They told the newspaper: "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.”
Zahawi said he did not "recognise" the story.
“It is absolutely not where we are at," the minister said.
"On the contrary, in January alone, we’ve got 420 million lateral flow tests coming in and they’ll continue to be available for free because we’ve got three lines of defence: the booster, testing, and antivirals.
"I don’t really recognise where that story has come from.”
However, while the Cabinet minister ruled out free lateral flow tests being scrapped immediately, he did not deny that they could be removed in the future.
In other developments:
- Senior Tories are warning Boris Johnson that going ahead with plans to increase National Insurance payments while the cost of living rises will hurt the party at May's local elections.
- Foreign Secretary Liz Truss faces a dilemma in handling the Northern Ireland Protocol without damaging a future bid to become Conservative party leader and Prime Minister.
- Johnson is set to avoid a fresh inquiry into his contentious Downing Street redecoration, according to The Telegraph.
The Times report said one option being considered by officials was 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 also suggested that he would support a move to reduce the period during which people who catch Covid have to self-isolate from seven days to five, as long as it was backed by scientific advisors.
It is another hint of the government's plans to move closer towards normal life.
"I would always defer to the scientific advice on this," he told Sky News, adding that the UK Health Security Agency was currently exploring the possibility.
"It would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, critical work forces, and others.
"But I would absolutely be driven by advice from the experts and the scientists on whether we should move from seven days to five days."
In a separate interview with the BBC, Zahawi said it was important to keep the length of self-isolation under review because it would "certainly help" reduce the number of staff who are absent.
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