Free Covid testing to be scrapped for everyone under ‘Rampdown’ plans
- Free Covid testing is to be scrapped for everyone under ‘Rampdown’ plans
- A dossier leaked to the Mail on Sunday reveals that the Government is drawing up plans to scrap the hugely costly free tests
- Officials warned that the move could result in a stampede of families ‘stockpiling’ lateral flow tests
Universal free Covid testing is set to be scrapped under the Government’s Rampdown plans.
Currently, anyone can request the delivery of free lateral flow tests to their homes, while those with symptoms are told to take free PCR tests, which are analysed in laboratories.
But a dossier leaked to the Mail on Sunday reveals that the Government is drawing up plans to scrap the hugely costly free tests. Instead, testing will be prioritised for the most ‘vulnerable’, including those in care homes and hospitals, and used to contain local outbreaks.
One document, written in September, shows how officials warned that the move could result in a stampede of families ‘stockpiling’ lateral flow tests. ‘There is a risk that a public announcement on the end of free testing provision could lead to stockpiling of tests or incentivise people to access free testing through symptomatic routes.
Universal free Covid testing is set to be scrapped under the Government’s Rampdown plans
Daily UK cases in the third wave peaked in July at 54,674 but then remained high for three months, hitting 52,009 on October 21. Since then the numbers fell steadily, before moving slightly upwards in recent days
The central planning assumption is known as ‘leaving soon’ and would have involved a peak in July of 65,000 cases a day, with ‘modest levels’ by October. In fact, all of the scenarios were wrong
‘Any decision to charge for tests is likely to discourage the most vulnerable, including the poorest, from testing.’
The document also reveals that officials are preparing to kick-start a ‘private testing market’ in which companies will charge people for tests. About 500 firms offering 150 different testing products are already undergoing the accreditation process, the document states.
‘We have put in place a foundation for a regulated private market for both PCR and LFDs [lateral flow devices]… To mobilise a private market, we would need to signal publicly and directly a firm end date for universal free testing.’
Handing the whole lucrative testing regime over to private firms is likely to prove controversial. Currently, people have to pay for their own PCR tests for travel from the open market, which created a ‘Wild West’ of misleading advertising and inflated pricing.
Mass testing had been a critical part of Britain’s fight against the virus, but a damning report by MPs last month found that despite an ‘eye-watering’ £37 billion budget over two years, NHS Test and Trace has failed in its main objective of helping stop the virus spreading.
More than 691 million free lateral flow tests have been distributed in the past year but only 96 million of these – 14 per cent – have been used to register a test result with the NHS, the report by the Public Accounts Committee found.
France ended free tests last month and the six million adults there who are not vaccinated now have to pay between £18 and £37 per test.
Free tests were axed in Germany on October 11 and now cost £16. One option being considered in England is for the Government to initially charge people for tests, as early as January, before handing over to private firms.
Officials are also considering sweeping away regular testing in schools in the New Year as vaccination rates among pupils rise. Currently all secondary school and college students should take lateral flow tests at home twice a week.
Ministers have ruled that regular mass testing will last until at least the Christmas holidays but officials are considering whether to then ditch them in favour of targeted testing to manage local outbreaks.
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