'It's a mistake': Keir Starmer urges Boris Johnson to reverse plans to end free Covid testing
Sir Keir Starmer has said ending free coronavirus testing is a "mistake", as he urged Boris Johnson to reverse plans that could see some people forced to pay for a Covid diagnosis.
According to several reports the government is set to announce an end to free lateral flow and PCR tests for most people next week as part of its "living with Covid" plan, although the date for scrapping each provision has not been confirmed.
The Department for Health and Social Care has not denied the plans but has said the testing programme is "under review".
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "Ending free testing is a mistake. Covid hasn't gone away. Obviously all of us want restrictions to be released but its still important that people test if they've got symptoms or if they're going to see someone who is particularly vulnerable.
"If you take away free tests then that will diminish the likely hood of that and make it worse in the long run - so it is not a good idea to get rid of free tests on the health ground nor is it economically the right thing to do."
Keir Starmer: 'Ending free testing is a mistake...'
Confirmation on whether free tests will be scrapped or not will come next week when the government sets out its "living with Covid" plan on Monday.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid refused to confirm the plans when speaking to the media on Tuesday but said measures to protect the UK from Covid are "not all forever".
Asked if he was planning to scrap free testing, he said: "We will keep that under review. lateral flow tests or the measures we have in place to fight Covid, they are not all forever.
"We have to go with the latest data. we will keep it under review and in due course we'll set out our plans."
He refused to preempt any new policy being set out under the living with Covid plan on Monday but said: "At some point we will have to change how we offer tests, I think that's just sensible."
Will the end of free Covid testing be announced next week? Sajid Javid responds
Reports say free lateral flow tests may be limited to older age groups from March 31 and free PCR testing for people with symptoms could go from the same date.
There's expected to be exceptions for those in high-risk settings and for the most vulnerable, according to the Guardian.
“No decisions have been made on the provision of free testing," a government spokesperson said in a statement.
"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 government has previously said "universal free provision" of LFTs will come to an end at some stage.
"Individuals and businesses using the tests will bear the cost," it said in a document published in autumn last year.
Prime Minister Johnson recently revealed his intention to end all coronavirus restrictions a month sooner than planned, which would mean an announcement could be expected next Thursday.
It means the end of self-isolation rules after a positive could be just one week away.
The requirement for people to wear face coverings in health care settings is also expected to be lifted.
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