Ministers’ plans to scale back free PCR Covid tests could weaken the UK’s defenses if a new variant of the virus emerges that results in “significant new waves” of cases, a group representing local public health chiefs has warned.
Before a meeting of cabinet ministers and the prime minister later this week to discuss the “learning to live with Covid” strategy, the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH) said that forcing people to pay for lateral flow tests would also have a “detrimental impact” on take-up, particularly among disadvantaged communities.
The group said that despite the government being expected to roll back the last remaining Covid laws from next week, coronavirus was “yet to become endemic”, and added it was “difficult to predict when this state may be attained”.
“Significant levels of cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to disrupt and devastate individuals, public services and the economy,” a briefing note said. “There remains a degree of unpredictability about the course ahead.”
Whitehall sources told the Guardian on Monday that ministers were pressing ahead with plans to start winding down Covid testing and payments for isolation from next week to save more than £ 10bn.
In a veiled criticism of Boris Johnson, given his investigation by the Metropolitan police for allegedly attending a series of lockdown-breaking parties, the ADPH said political leaders had “a responsibility to model good behavior and foster an environment of trust and collective spirit”.
While the group said it wanted to “avoid strict measures and lockdowns”, it called on Johnson to “chart a sensible path between the extremes of lockdowns and letting the virus rip”.
The ADPH said: “Oscillating harms businesses and disrupts public services more than a course of action to keep infection rates more stable.”