I share the concerns that the Government’s decision to end free COVID-19 testing is the wrong decision at the wrong time.
Testing is crucial for keeping infections under control and preventing the return of restrictions on our lives, livelihoods, and liberties. It is particularly important for frontline workers and immunocompromised people who are more vulnerable to the virus.
From 1 April, the Government will stop providing free universal testing for the public in England, but the Health Secretary has said that free testing will continue to be offered to vulnerable people, including those who are immunocompromised.
However, several weeks after they published their ‘Living with COVID-19’ plan, Ministers have still not provided details on which at-risk groups will continue to be eligible for free testing, and whether their close family will be included as well.
Instead of restoring freedom, I am concerned that the Government’s plan for living with COVID may force people at higher risk back into isolation.
A coalition of 18 health charities – including the MS Society, Blood Cancer UK and Kidney Care – are urging the Government to maintain provision of free COVID-19 testing to help protect more than 500,000 immunocompromised people.
The charities highlight how severely immunocompromised people do not get as much protection from the jabs, and many are more likely to suffer severe illness if they catch COVID-19 compared to the general population.
COVID is not going away. Whilst all of us want restrictions to be eased, it is essential that people test if they have symptoms or if they are going to see somebody who is particularly vulnerable. I am concerned that removing free tests will diminish the likelihood of that and make it worse in the long run.
I am pleased that the Opposition has set out an alternative plan for living well with COVID, learning the lessons of the past two years and preparing the country for future variants or a new wave of infections. A plan to make testing fit for the future and ensure proper sick pay to empower people to self-isolate when they need to.
I can assure you that my Opposition Colleagues and I will continue to advocate for our plan, and to press the Government to at least provide some details on its plan. We cannot abandon immunocompromised people.