BoJo Reportedly To Reveal COVID-19 Strategy of 'Scaled Back Free Testing, Shorter Isolation Periods'
Last week Boris Johnson voiced the hope that Britain would "ride out" the current coronavirus wave without further restrictions beyond the government's "Plan B" strategy, despite parts of the National health Service (NHS) being "temporarily overwhelmed" amid a surge of cases attributed to the Omicron variant.
Boris Johnson could reveal his government’s strategy on how the UK will live with COVID-19 within weeks, according to The Sun.
Measures said to be mulled by the Prime Minister are expected to include free lateral flow coronavirus tests (LFT) being scrapped for all settings but the most “high-risk” ones, such as care homes, hospitals and schools.
The Autumn and Winter Plan, cited by Whitehall sources, suggested that the universal free-of-cost provision of LFTs would be phased out to ensure that “individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost”. The estimated cost of free LFTs during the COVID-19 pandemic is around £6 billion (approximately $8 billion) with the budget for testing set to be reviewed in April.
In line with a reported cost-cutting move, the National Health Service’s Test and Trace system would also be scaled back.
The reported strategy is prompted by the fact that studies suggest the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is milder than other strains, with an official UK report claiming that the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 percent lower than with the Delta variant.
When asked about reports of free lateral flow testing being scrapped, UK Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday stated “that is absolutely not where we are at”.
"I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that's five, six, seven, 10 years," said Zahawi, appearing on Sky's Trevor Phillips on Sunday.
According to government sources, currently the main focus is to deal with the growing pressure the NHS is facing amid sick leave staff shortages. Accordingly, calls for the isolation period to be cut from seven to five days have gained strength.
Housing Secretary Michael Gove, while not denying reports of free tests being phased out, told Sky News they would be around "as long as we need them."
On Monday Johnson hailed the fact that Britain was making progress against Omicron and revealed that his government was "looking a" reducing the isolation period to five days. However, he acknowledged that ministers would follow the science.
"We've got to make sure that we see off Omicron. We're making great progress... (But) the 18,000 people with COVID currently in hospital... that's massively up, and the numbers are increasing," said the PM, adding that 30% of those cases could have been infected in hospital.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged that parts of the NHS would feel "temporarily overwhelmed" amid a surge of Omicron cases, but said there was a "good chance" he would not impose fresh measures beyond the current "Plan B" strategy. The latter, which triggered a Tory rebellion in the Commons when laid out by the PM in December, presupposes work from home guidance, mask-wearing in public places and COVID passes.
Boris Johnson had also announced plans for 100,000 critical workers to take daily coronavirus tests from 10 January. These industries include food processing, transport and the border force.
On Sunday, the number of COVID-19 cases in the UK dropped for the fifth day in a row. A total of 141,472 cases were reported, after an earlier milestone of 150,000 on Saturday.