Lateral flow tests will remain free in the UK for “as long as they’re very important” to stop the spread of Covid-19, Boris Johnson has said.
The Prime Minister said the tests are “one of our most important lines of defence” and that “we’ve got to make sure we see off Omicron” in response to rumours that he will soon scrap free lateral flow tests in the coming weeks.
Johnson also said the government was “looking at” whether to cut the Covid-enforced self-isolation period from seven to five days, but that he would “act according to the science”.
The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Johnson would announce in the coming weeks that lateral flow tests will only be free for people who are at a greater risk of getting Covid like NHS and social care workers.
It is believed that chancellor Rishi Sunak is concerned about the more than £6bn that the lateral flow tests have cost the government so far.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi firmly denied the report yesterday and a Number 10 spokesperson said today that there are “no plans” to end free lateral flow tests.
Speaking to journalists today, Johnson said: “We’re going to have to make sure we continue to have to use testing as one of our most important lines of defence for as long as it’s necessary.
“I think we’ll use them a long as they’re very important, it’s a similar argument to be had about the quarantine period and whether to come down from seven days to five days – the thing to do is to look at the science.
“We’re looking at that and we will act according to the science as we always have. What I will say to everybody is that Omicron is still out there and it’s incredibly contagious. Everybody will know somebody who has had it, it can be pretty unpleasant.”
When pushed further on when free lateral flow tests would be scrapped, the PM said: “We’ve got to make sure we see off Omicron, we’re making great progress. The number of people who have been boosted is 36m – 90 per cent of over-50s have been done, but there are still millions who need to do it.”
A Number 10 spokesperson said “at a later stage [of the pandemic] universal free provision of these tests will end”, but that it is “too early to say when”.