England’s coronavirus testing strategy has been criticized as “reckless” amid plans to end the free provision of rapid tests and relax tracking of cases abroad.
Families and businesses will have to pay for lateral flow testing starting next year in a review of Downing Street’s approach to the pandemic.
More than 95 million of the 30-minute tests have been used since they were made available free of charge in England from April. Reported at cost £ 5- £ 30 each, have identified more than 620,000 cases, most in people without symptoms but who could still transmit the virus.
Mayors, teacher unions and public health directors said that charging for lateral flow tests was a “backward step” that threatened to throw schools into chaos, accelerate the spread of the virus and deepen health inequalities.
Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the school leaders union NAHT, said: “The best way to minimize disruptions to children’s education is to keep the number of Covid cases in school as low as possible. Testing is critical to this. Removing free access to Covid testing while cases are still high would be unwise. The schools also cannot afford the cost of paying for the tests for all their students and families ”.
Anyone without symptoms can order tests online although they are mainly used in schools, residences and the NHS. They have detected nearly 173,000 positive cases in daycare centers, schools and universities and more than 35,000 cases in nursing homes since January, according to an analysis by The Guardian.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, said that paying for lateral flow tests was a step backward, adding: “In our opinion, charging for lateral flow tests could only lead to further spread of the virus and deepening inequalities. that we’ve seen all the way through this pandemic. “
The winter plan, released this week, said lateral flow devices would continue to be provided free of charge “in the coming months,” but thereafter “the free universal provision of LFD will end, and individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost. ” The document said that the government would “become widely involved” in how the charge would work because rapid tests “could continue to have an important and continuing role to play in the future.”
There were no details on how schools or nursing homes could fund the provision of lateral flow tests once they are no longer free. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Assistance said: “LFDs are a crucial measure to stop the spread of Covid-19 and that is precisely why we have confirmed that we are expanding the free provision of these tests.”
Kevin Courtney, deputy secretary general of the National Education Union, said: “If the government wants regular long-term testing to take place, erecting financial barriers will mean that many people will simply not participate, which will surely lead to further spread. “
Lateral flow test use has fallen from a peak of about 7.5 million per week in the spring, although nearly 6,000 test cases were collected out of 6 million when schools returned in the week through Sept. 8.
Jamie Driscoll, the mayor of North Tyne, said that expecting low-wage people to pay for quick tests to get everything to work right was “the exact opposite of leveling up.” He said it was “the most counterproductive pinch of a penny you can imagine,” adding: “When you have a lethal communicable disease like Covid, why the hell would you reverse the public health benefits of testing?”
Professor Kate Ardern, Senior Director of Public Health in Greater Manchester, questioned why people should have to pay for coronavirus tests when tests for other diseases, such as tuberculosis, were free on the NHS. “Anything that can dissuade people from continuing to do [testing] – and a charge does that – so that’s potentially a bit of a concern, ”he said.
Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackburn-with-Darwen, which has had the highest number of Covid cases per capita since the onset of the pandemic, said it was “critical” that tests remain free to people. with higher risk.
“Anything that puts a barrier to community-level testing in high-risk communities, which we know are often the lowest-income communities, will increase the risk of further transmission and, of course, hospitalization and mortality. “, said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism