Lateral flow tests will remain free ‘as long as we need’, says Michael Gove

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 (PA)
(PA)

Michael Gove has cast doubt over suggestions the government is to scrap free lateral flow tests.

Reports suggest Boris Johnson plans to axe free tests within weeks amid concerns over their cost.

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

However, Gove has stated the tests will remain free for “as long as we need”.

The Levelling Up Secretary told Sky News it was “impossible to predict” how long that would be.

He said: “But it is the case that in this country lateral flow tests are free, unlike in many other jurisdictions, they’re a vital tool in making sure that we can curb the spread of the infection and also that people who are needed to isolate do so.”

He added: “We are moving to a situation – we’re not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.

“But it’s absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet and as the Health Secretary has reminded us, there will be some difficult weeks ahead and that is why we all need to continue to test, continue – if we are positive – to isolate and continue broadly to support the NHS as it goes through a challenging period.

“But one in which the frontline professionals are doing an amazing job.”

The comments come after Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi also refuted the suggestions.

The Cabinet minister said he was “puzzled” by the reports.

The Sunday Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson would make the announcement on scaling back tests within weeks.

But Mr Zahawi told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at.

“For January alone we’ve got 425 million lateral flow tests coming in and they will continue to be available for free.

“I don’t really recognise where that story is coming from.”

Asked whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, he said: “Absolutely not.”

Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Daisy Cooper pointed out that vaccines minister Maggie Throup confirmed early in December that “at a later stage” the “free universal provision of LFD (lateral flow device) tests will end”.

Ms Cooper said the “left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing” as she warned that scrapping free tests “would plunge millions into a cost of living with Covid crisis”.

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