Lateral flow tests will remain free for now, minister insists

9 January 2022, 11:23 | Updated: 9 January 2022, 12:18

By Sophie Barnett

There are no plans yet to limit free lateral flow tests in England, the Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has reiterated on LBC.

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The Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, told Swarbrick on Sunday he "didn't recognise" the report that the free tests could be limited to high-risk settings and for people with symptoms.

It follows a report in The Sunday Times which said the government is planning to phase widespread free testing out over the next few weeks, as part of a strategy for the country to start "living with Covid".

The minister avoided answering questions on how long lateral flow tests will remain free for, telling Tom Swarbrick that "we have to continue to be vigilant" in the fight against coronavirus.

Mr Zahawi told Tom: "I didn't recognise that story and we are delivering about 100 million per month - for January we are going to have 425 million and more to come because it's one of the three lines of defence."

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Pressed on whether the tests will remain free forever, Mr Zahawi replied: "We are going to continue to be vigilant."

The Sunday Times reported the announcement, which could come within weeks, may include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system.

Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not signed up to the move, but if Mr Johnson was "really considering this" it would be "utterly wrongheaded".

"Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to 'live with' Covid," she tweeted.

She questioned what would happen to funding for UK nations for testing if the Westminster Government went ahead with the move, adding: "Testing so vital, we'd have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets."

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Zahawi said he was "puzzled" by the report, adding that this is "absolutely not where we are at".

Asked by Sky News whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, he said: "Absolutely not."

The rapid tests were made available to everyone in England, crucially including those without symptoms, in April.

They have been seen as a key way of suppressing the virus and have given confidence to people to safely mix with their loved ones, particularly around Christmas.

A government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, and instead said: "Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

"Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school."

The Department of Health and Social Care is yet to comment on the reports.

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