Minister hints free lateral flow tests to be scrapped as part of ‘revised’ plan

The Prime Minister is due to set out his proposals for ‘living with Covid’ on Monday.

17 February 2022

A minister has hinted that Boris Johnson is likely to announce an end to the provision of free lateral flow tests when he outlines his “living with Covid” plan next week.

James Heappey, the armed forces minister, said it was time to “reconsider” whether some pandemic measures should remain in place as he argued Britons need to “change behaviours” in the face of future coronavirus variants potentially being less threatening.

The Prime Minister is set to outline his post-pandemic plan of action when Parliament returns from a short recess on Monday, having already stated he will aim within days of his statement to lift the requirement for those positive with Covid to self-isolate.

There have also been reports that, as part of the Prime Minister’s blueprint for the future, the UK Government will no longer provide free lateral flow tests (LFTs) – do-at-home tests which can provide results within as little as 15 minutes – to the public as part of the shift.

Mr Heappey, asked on Sky News whether the offer of free quick-result tests to allow people to check whether they are positive for coronavirus will be “taken away”, said: “I think that is the direction of travel but the Prime Minister will shortly announce his conclusions on that.”

Mr Johnson’s administration has been warned by critics that the public could be left “flying blind” on Covid if left without free testing provision.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out his 'living with Covid' plan next week
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to set out his ‘living with Covid’ plan next week (Owen Humphreys/PA)

LBC, which first reported about free tests being scrapped, also said the availability of free PCR tests could also be withdrawn as part of the changes, with the suggestion the UK would move to a paid-for model if people want to test themselves for the virus.

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper said scrapping free tests while case rates were “still sky high” would “leave the public and scientists flying blind” and increase the risk of another lockdown.

The SNP and Labour have also criticised the touted plan, with opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer arguing ending free coronavirus testing would be “a mistake” which would increase the risk of transmission.

Mr Heappey said he understood the concern around withdrawing the offer of free LFTs, especially for people wanting to know their Covid status before visiting vulnerable relatives.

However, the Conservative frontbencher said the country was “moving to a different phase” and that pandemic habits would have to change.

Armed forces minister James Heappey
James Heappey said he understood the worry about LFTs no longer being free (David Mirzoeff/PA)

“We are moving from a period of pandemic into a period of endemic and I think that there is a mindset adjustment that we are all going to need to make as we accept that the expectation is that future variants of Covid will be as mild or, more probably, milder than Omicron,” he said.

“That means we can change our behaviours and worry less about the need to have tested ourselves, and everything else. But the Prime Minister will bring forward revised measures.

“I understand why people are concerned – it has become habit and it is a reassurance – but the reality is we are moving to a different phase of this now and I think it is probably time to reconsider whether some of the measures that were in place over the last 18 months need to endure.”

The Government has previously said “universal free provision” of LFTs will come to an end at some stage, although it has said no decision has been taken on timings when responding to reports there could be an announcement on the ending of free testing next week.

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