Welsh Health Minister 'disappointed' by claims lateral flow testing to be scaled back in England

Wales' Health Minister responds to claims that England plans to scale back lateral flow testing

It is "absolutely the wrong time to be discussing" the scaling back of lateral flow testing, the Welsh Health Minister has said following reports that England could limit testing to high-risk settings.

The response comes after a report in The Sunday Times, which claims that free lateral flow tests could be scaled back as part of UK Government plans to live with Covid.

But Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted that the tests will remain free, adding that he is "puzzled" by the report suggesting that their universal availability could be reduced to settings like care homes, hospitals and schools, and for people with symptoms.

The Sunday Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would make the announcement within weeks, while the NHS test and trace system could also be scaled back.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she is "disappointed" over the suggestion, and stood firm that Wales is not considering the same.

Nadhim Zahawi has denied that the UK Government is planning to limit free lateral flow testing. Credit: PA Images

"I think just as we're entering into the peak is absolutely the wrong time to be discussing this, so I'm disappointed that there's any discussion around that," Ms Morgan said.

"I understand that the Minister who is supposed to have said that is now denying that he suggested that, so clearly there is a bit of a mix-up within the UK Government.

"But certainly here in Wales we have no intention at the moment to restrict access to lateral flow tests at all."

On Friday, the Welsh Government confirmed there would be no changes to Covid regulations for at least another week.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said the number of Covid patients in Welsh hospitals is at its highest since last March, and warned that the peak is still at least another ten to 14 days away.

Health Minister Eluned Morgan

Ms Morgan also insisted that Wales would not cut the Covid isolation period again without more evidence to support it, after the UK Education Secretary backed a reduction.

Wales reduced the isolation period from 10 to seven days - if the individual returns two negative lateral flow tests - from 31 December, after England did the same.

But Nadhim Zahawi is in the spotlight again - after becoming the first government Minister to publicly support an further reduction from seven to five days, which he said would be "more helpful".

Speaking to The Sunday Times, Mr Zahawi said: "The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have said they want to review it, so we will stick to seven days but if they review it and say they will bring it down to five days that is even better for me, it's even more helpful."

Credit: PA Images

Mr Zahawi also told the paper he believes the UK is "witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic".

He argued that reducing the isolation period could help reduce staffing shortages, and "help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, critical workforce and others".

The US recently changed it guidance and halved the isolation period from 10 to five days for asymptomatic sufferers.

'We'd clear clinical guidance before reducing isolation period again', Health Minister says

Ms Morgan has dismissed the idea, adding that the UKHSA has previously said reducing the isolation period could do more harm than good.

She said: "The UK's Health Security Agency have been very robust on this in the past and they've suggested that, in fact, it could make matters worse if you release people after five days - it could actually lead to more infections and more people off work.

"So that's certainly not a path that we would go down without any clear clinical guidance that that was in the interests of trying to curb this pandemic."

The self-isolation period has been cut from 10 to seven days - providing the individual receives two negative lateral flow test results. Credit: PA Images

This week new Covid testing rules came into force to reduce disruption to businesses caused by staff self-isolating.

Symptomless people who get an initial positive result on their lateral flow test no longer need a PCR test to begin their period of self-isolation.

Test and trace will still operate in the same way so long as people register their result, it's unclear how many people currently report their lateral flow results.

Ms Morgan admitted that the changes to Covid testing requirements leave the accuracy of case rates dependant on public honesty.

"We are relying on the public - as we have done throughout this pandemic - to do the right thing.

"We've given clear guidance on what it is that people need to do.

"We can't do any of this unless the public come with us, we can't do any of it unless they volunteer to come and have their booster jabs.

"So all of this is about a partnership with the public and getting them to understand that it's in their interest to help us out on this."