Boris Johnson to ‘scrap free lateral flow tests within weeks’

Boris Johnson is set to axe free lateral flow tests amid concerns over their cost, it has been reported.

Under the new proposals, free tests will be limited to high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools.

A senior Whitehall source told the Sunday Times: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody.

“It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary.”

Nicola Sturgeon last night warned the Prime Minister that scrapping the free tests would be “utterly wrongheaded”.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid.”

Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said: “This would be the wrong decision at the wrong time. Testing is absolutely crucial for keeping infections under control.

“The cost will also hit families at a time when they face a cost of living crisis. It means people simply won’t take them. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

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

The government has spent more than £6billion on mass testing.

Despite infections hitting record highs after the emergence of Omicron, admissions to hospital have not followed the same trajectory.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group, yesterday said Omicron is “possibly the first ray of light” in the pandemic.

He told Times Radio: “The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe, and ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version. It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.

“We’re not quite there yet but possibly Omicron is the first ray of light there that suggests that may happen in the longer term. It is, of course, much more transmissible than Delta was, which is concerning, but much less severe.

“Hopefully, as we move more towards the spring and we see the back of Omicron, we can get more inter-relationship of living with Covid as an endemic disease and protecting the vulnerable.

“Any variant that does emerge which is less severe, ultimately, in the longer term, is where we want to be.”

Cases in London “are slowing down”, he said, but scientists need two weeks to see if this continues.

Dr Tildesley added: “Most other parts of the country are about two to three weeks behind where London is in their epidemic profile.

“Particularly concerning is the North East and the North West – if you look at hospital admissions in those two regions they are going up, also the Midlands, where I live, that’s also a little bit concerning, so it is a worry.”

It comes as nearly two thirds of London boroughs have seen Covid rates fall amid hope that the capital’s wave of Omicron infections has peaked.

Covid has hit London hospitals with 10,000 staff a day being recorded absent from work, the NHS revealed.