Covid Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon slams reports that UK Government set to end free lateral flow tests

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned Boris Johnson against ending free lateral flow tests, claiming it would be "wrongheaded".

Free rapid tests, which people have been encouraged to use at home, could be ended within weeks, a Westminster source has told The Sunday Times, under plans for Britain to "live with Covid".

In a tweet, Ms Sturgeon said that it was "hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid".

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A UK Government minister said this morning that he did “not recognise” the claims and insisted the government remains committed to testing as part of plans to tackle Covid.

Free lateral flow tests could end within weeks, sources have claimed.Free lateral flow tests could end within weeks, sources have claimed.
Free lateral flow tests could end within weeks, sources have claimed.

The report said that free lateral flow tests – which have cost the UK Government £6 billion – could not go on “for evermore”. Under the reported proposals, free tests being provided only in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools and to people with symptoms. The tests were made free to everyone to pick up in locations such as pharmacies last April.

The report quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore. It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.”

Health experts and government officials have urged people to take lateral flow tests at least twice a week – and just before socialising with others outside of their household.

Westminster vaccines minister and current education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said he did "not recognise" the story that the tests could be limited.

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"This is absolutely not where were are at," he said in a TV interview this morning.

Asked if there were any plans to stop free lateral flow tests, Mr Zahawi said "absolutely not".

Ms Sturgeon said: “If UK government is really considering this (@scotgov⁩ certainly not signed up to it) it is utterly wrongheaded. Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid.”

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She said that the devolved governments would have to look at how they could continue funding testing without UK Government support.

She added: "Testing so vital, we'd have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets. More evidence that current UK funding rules not fit for purpose."

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said: “The suggestion that the UK Government was considering scrapping free Lateral Flow Tests right now was dangerous and, quite frankly, mind boggling. We continue to see UK Government shutting its eyes to the reality of the pandemic so this suggestion was sadly believable and, understandably, caused significant public concern.

“Lateral flow tests are a vital part in tackling the spread of Covid 19 and allowing us to live with more normality than at previous stages in the pandemic. It is now imperative that the Tory Government commit to continue to fund free Lateral Flow Tests for everybody for as long as necessary - this reassurance is vital given the very concerning considerations that have been widely reported.”

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