Removing free covid tests is an “anti-business” move that risks hurting the economy as it faces spiraling costs and uncertainty, ministers have warned.
Some workplaces are already seeing equipment hit hard by COVID-19 absences, after the number of infections reached its highest level on record last week. Official data suggests nearly 5 million people have the disease, or one in 13 of the population. It comes with businesses already facing spiraling costs, as well as higher national insurance payments starting this month. Employees are also faced with a decision about when to test.
Now there is concern that the withdrawal of free covid tests for most people in England last Friday will lead to high levels of absences that could be avoided, causing further disruption to already struggling businesses. There are pleas for a rethink, with concerns that smaller businesses, as well as hospitality, could be hit hard.
“Westminster government must understand that we are still living through Covid rather than with it, and shift its focus to providing free testing again,” said Dan Shears, health and safety officer for the GMB union. “The cost of providing testing will likely be dwarfed by the productivity cost of millions of preventable infections.”
Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said the government had created a “perfect storm” for the economy and workers. “Ending free COVID testing in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis is terrible for family budgets and for public health,” she said. “With cases rising again, the last thing workers should be worrying about is how they are going to pay for testing. But that is the position in which many low-paid, front-line employees have been placed.”
Some unions are now asking employers to help defray the costs of testing, as they would benefit from low absences. “It is not appropriate for workers to bear the cost of COVID testing in order to go to work every day,” Shears said. “Workers don’t buy their own PPE and shouldn’t buy their own tests.”
Higher National Health Service The figures worry that the lower Covid hospitalization rate is creating complacency. Some health figures said they were going through their toughest period of the pandemic, while hospital cases in some areas were still weeks away from peaking. Scientists expect infections from the variant of the Omicron coronavirus known as BA.2 to decline by the end of this month.
“Clearly there is a lot of other things going on; I think that is lulling the public into a false sense of security,” said Dr Layla McCay, policy director at the NHS Confederation. “Thanks to vaccines, people with omicron they are less likely to need hospital care, but a small proportion will always need it. A small proportion of a giant number is still quite a large number, and many of our members see it continuing to grow.
“In previous waves of Covid, there has been a national appreciation of the challenge that National Health Service is currently encountering and mitigation measures have been taken. Right now the NHS is in a confusing scenario where they know they’re under huge pressure because of Covid, but they’re also expected to stick to recovery plans, when they don’t necessarily feel like they’re at that stage.”
The Liberal Democrats reckoned that pub owners, already battling the pandemic and facing mounting costs, including a 20% VAT rate refund, could face a £4,000-a-year bill to provide their staff with tests if so. they decide. “The decision to scrap free trials is anti-business,” he said. daisy cooper, the Lib Dem health spokesperson. “This government has lost touch with the harsh reality faced by business owners who just want to stay safe and open. Once again, small businesses are being cheated by this government’s senseless Covid policies.”
Meanwhile, teachers warned that free testing was being phased out and self-isolation rules relaxed in a confusing and untimely way. Dr Mary Bousted, Deputy General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: “Children who are ‘unwell and have a high temperature’ should stay home until they no longer have a high temperature.
“Adults who test positive are advised to ‘try to stay home’ for five days, and children for three. This confusing guidance is a recipe for even more chaos and will make case management and prevention of student education disruption even more difficult than it already is.”
Health department officials noted that the budget for testing, tracing and isolation had cost more than £15.7bn in 2021-22. They said that the protection of the population against Covid was now high enough to reduce costs, as a result of the vaccines.