'Covid testing for Scotland to continue free of charge, however, UK Government clarity needed', says John Swinney

John Swinney has called on the UK Government to provide clarity around Covid test funding as he said testing in Scotland would continue “free of charge”.

The Deputy First Minister said the Scottish Government “needs to have clarity on a four-nations basis” on what the approach to testing is going to be across the whole of the UK.

Mr Swinney said he was unable to lay out how the Scottish Government would fund any mass testing without this information.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would not be funding free testing after April and indicated the Scottish Government would have to pay for the move north of the Border.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said testing in Scotland will continue “free of charge”, however, clarity around funding is needed from the UK Government (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell).

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In Scotland, the vaccine passport scheme will end on Monday and the rest of the measures including the use of face coverings will be lifted on March 21. However, wearing masks in shops and on public transport will still be encouraged.

Mr Swinney told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland the Scottish Government believed testing should be delivered free of charge and a final financial settlement from the UK Government needed to be made clear.

He said: "The UK is saying that it wants to maintain the intelligence that requires it to pick up where there are new strains of the virus emerging. They want to do sufficient testing to be able to be in a position to act should it be necessary to take stronger measures to protect public health.

"That approach sounds to me as if it requires testing to be continuing within England on the decisions taken by the Prime Minister and his colleagues on a certain basis and we need to understand the financing of all of that.

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"If there is more money being made available by the Treasury for that provision, then obviously there are financial implications for us.”

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A transition plan will be set out next month by the Scottish Government that will explain the “circumstances and conditions” around how and when people should access testing.

Mr Swinney said it was likely this plan would include a combination of both lateral flow and PCR testing.

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The Deputy First Minister said access to the tests via local pharmacies would depend on discussions with the UK Government and the availability of resources.

Scottish Labour has criticised the Scottish Government for lack of clarity on plans around testing.

Party deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The First Minister must tell us now if she is going to fund testing and contact tracing in order to protect Scots.”

During her update at Parliament on Tuesday, Nicola Sturgeon expressed frustration at the UK Government’s position on testing as she said there was “no clarity”.

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Ms Sturgeon said: “Current funding arrangements mean that though taxpayers in all four UK nations contribute to the costs, it is decisions taken for England that determine the resources available to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland for testing and other Covid measures.

“We have no clarity on how much of the Covid testing infrastructure the UK Government intends to retain; no clarity on how much investment will support it in future; and no clarity on whether the Treasury will provide additional resources to pay for it or demand instead that funding is taken from elsewhere in the health budget.”

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