Yesterday in the House of Commons Boris Johnson made a statement and one of the themes was the the testing capability for COVID. The whole of the statement and indeed the range of conversations can be seen from here. In terms of the testing aspect which was raised by a number of people and led to some very inadequate responses, it began with this statement from the Prime Minister
From today, we are removing the guidance for staff and students in most education and childcare settings to undertake twice-weekly asymptomatic testing. And from 1 April, when winter is over and the virus will spread less easily, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public. We will continue to provide free symptomatic tests to the oldest age groups and those most vulnerable to covid. And in line with the practice in many other countries, we are working with retailers to ensure that everyone who wants to can buy a test.
A few hundred words after that comment he then stated “We will prepare and maintain our capabilities to ramp up testing.” but did not explain what that the capabilities will represent. The response from Keir Starmer was of course related to a range of the the comments that emerged from Boris Johnson which included
Having come this far, I know that the British people will continue to act responsibly and that they will do the right thing: testing and then isolating if positive. What I cannot understand is why the Prime Minister is taking away the tools that will help them to do that. Free tests cannot continue forever, but if you are 2-1 up with 10 minutes to go, you do not sub off one of your best defenders.
A little while later Ian Blackford who is the SNP Westminster Leader raised the same theme and the response from Boris Johnson included the following few words
The free tests will of course continue until the beginning of April. Of course, if people want to, they can continue beyond then. I have set out for the House the reasons why we think it is much more sensible to focus on surveillance and spotting new variants, and to put our investment into that rather than mass testing.
A short while later Barbara Keeley a Labour MP stated the following and tragically the answer from Johnson did not respond to the theme. Here is the call from Barbara
In a recent survey, a majority of NHS leaders agreed that it was not the right time to end free testing for the public. Why does the Prime Minister disagree with them, and what scientific advice has he considered to come to this decision, which could have a real impact on the NHS elective recovery plan?
A call from Greg Clark who is the Conservative MP that was once a Minister and is now Chair of the Science and Technology Committee was as follows in terms of part of his comment and the response from Johnson includes the few words after this
However, one of the things we do know is that we sometimes did not have the necessary testing capacity when we needed it most acutely. If the ongoing surveillance were to throw up a variant that was more dangerous than omicron, how quickly could we stand up and deploy mass testing again?
We want to spot the new variant of concern as soon as we can, and then we want to surge our testing capacity in the way we did before—indeed much faster, since it is all ready to go. We will have stockpiles, we will keep our labs in readiness and we will be able to surge when necessary. But from April it will not be the right time to continue with mass testing in the way we have.
That response does not really explain why the free testing is ended and indeed it does not indicate how much capacity will be available should a requirement emerge. The next person who spoke was Edward Davey and his call was
Millions of family carers across our country are taking regular lateral flow tests to ensure that they do not pass covid to their vulnerable loved ones. The Prime Minister now says that these family carers must pay for covid tests out of their own pocket, even though many of them can hardly make ends meet at the moment. Is he really telling people that they must choose between money for the weekly shop or a test so that they do not accidentally take this contagious virus into their loved ones’ homes? Surely such a tax on caring would be unfair and unjust?
The response from Johnson was very short and this was the element that included some information which was very concerning “He should wait until March, when we will be setting out in more detail those who will continue to be entitled to free tests.” Later on another Conservative, Andrew Percy asked a very significant question and the response was disturbing. There were of course other questions and answers but this is clearly a very concerning announcement and we need our Parliament to continue to challenge this action.
On NHS testing, as the Prime Minister knows, I work in the NHS and I like getting my test before I book on duty; it makes me feel safe when I go into care homes or elsewhere to attend patients. When he sets out how testing will continue in March, will he clearly set out the situation for testing NHS workers?
First, may I thank my hon. Friend very much for his service in the NHS throughout the pandemic? I have seen him in action. On his point about the NHS, that will be for the NHS itself to determine.