Ministers have warned that scrapping free Covid tests will result in a £500 ‘care tax’ | Coronavirus

Abolition of free Covid tests for those caring for the vulnerable will amount to a ‘care tax’ costing them more than £500 a year, ministers have warned.

All remaining national Covid regulations that restrict civil liberties are set to end this week, with Boris Johnson set to announce a shift from government intervention to “personal responsibility”. However, the scale of free testing to keep is still being worked out in government this weekend amid a dispute between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid over costs. There is also growing concern among scientists about the future of the main survey used to monitor Covid in Britain.

Current data suggests that nearly 4 million people are regularly getting Covid tests, including those visiting and helping vulnerable relatives. This number also includes vulnerable people who work in environments that could put them at greater risk, where they have direct contact with others.

Research based on the average cost of testing internationally, compiled by the Liberal Democrats, suggests people who take two tests a week face an average bill of £534 a year. It comes after the government’s own scientific advisers warned that scrapping free testing will ‘increase anxiety’ and limit ‘social participation outside the home’ of those who are clinically vulnerable or living with someone in this situation.

“Making people pay for the tests they need to see vulnerable loved ones safely is a tax on care that risks leaving millions locked up in stealth,” said Lib Dem leader Ed Davey. “This means that vulnerable people will see their loved ones less and will be able to enjoy their lives less. It is unfair and unfair. Ministers must scrap these plans to end a ‘covid cost of living’ crisis. Throughout the pandemic, people have struggled to do the right thing and protect others. The government should not make it more difficult.

Commuters at Waterloo station earlier in February: All restrictions in England are expected to be lifted within a week. Photography: Wiktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Professor Graham Medley, chief Covid modeler at Sage, said it was a “good time to take stock” of what might be needed to help the country in another Covid pandemic or wave. “The main aim of making infection testing freely available to the UK population is to enable people to make individual decisions about their risk to themselves and others,” he said. “If we deprive people of screening, the population will not be able to make informed choices.”

He also warned against scrapping the Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey which monitors Covid infections: ‘Covid-19 Infection Survey (CIS) monitoring is the best way we have to know what the virus is doing in the community – if it is. deleted, we will be largely “blindly”. Governments must make decisions from multiple perspectives. The tests and the CIS are expensive. But we will need them again at some point in the future and we need to be able to restart them quickly.

Johnson, who faces pressure from the right in his party over his leadership and continued coronavirus restrictions, said that while Covid won’t go away, “we have to learn to live with this virus and continue to protect ourselves. without restricting our freedoms.

“We have built strong protections against this virus over the past two years through vaccine deployments, testing, new treatments and better scientific understanding of what this virus can do,” he said. declared. “Thanks to our successful vaccination program and the scale of the number of people who have been bitten, we are now in a position to set out our plan for living with Covid this week.”

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said ministers should think seriously before abandoning Covid surveillance measures which have been “key parts of our defence”. “One of the hallmarks of the pandemic has been our inability to predict its course,” he said. “While the leaders of the NHS trust recognize the continuing cost of [testing and surveillance] regimes, they are clear that the government should err on the side of caution before dismantling or reducing them”.

Government pressure to dismantle the Covid surveillance system is already weighing on local authorities. The national contact tracing service may also be abolished and responsibility for contact tracing of infected people will rest solely with local authorities. This work has been funded by the £400million Containment Epidemic Management Fund, which is due to end next month and the Treasury appears unlikely to renew.

Lack of secure funding means some councils have already made staff redundant. If no extra money is available, vital services are at risk, including contact tracing, testing for care homes and schools and cutting-edge testing for new variants.

Business leaders are also concerned that the removal of Covid testing and self-isolation measures will create more tension and conflict in the workplace. HR managers who took part in a focus group last week organized by CIPD, the association of human resources professionals, said they were concerned that if free testing ends, employees who only receive statutory sick pay of £96.35 a week – among the lowest rates in Europe – will go to work while contagious. The lowest paid workers and those who are vital to supply chains are often only entitled to the minimum statutory sick pay.

CIPD public policy manager Ben Willmott said: “There are real costs, hidden costs of not paying statutory sick pay at a reasonable rate. People can’t afford to live on £96 a week so they end up losing their jobs. It will likely be up to employers to decide how best to manage the risk of Covid in the workplace. There is a lot of desire for clarity [from government] and it would be helpful to have up-to-date guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care.

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