Testing and tracing have been important throughout the pandemic, however free universal testing has come at significant cost to the taxpayer. The Testing, Tracing and Isolation budget in 2020/21 exceeded that of the Home Office and in 2021/22 cost over £15.7 billion. When the population did not have such a high level of protection from Covid-19 and the virus posed a more serious risk, I absolutely believe that this spending was necessary.
I know that there is still concern about this virus, however with the great success of the vaccination programme, access to new treatments, natural immunity and the increased understanding about how to manage risk from this virus, we can all be reassured that the population has stronger protection against Covid-19 than ever before. I believe now is the right time to begin to manage Covid-19 like other respiratory infections, while targeting protection at those who are most at-risk.
Free universal symptomatic and asymptomatic testing provision is no longer available in England as of 1st April. I am glad however that people at risk of serious illness from Covid-19 and eligible for treatments will continue to get free tests to use if they develop symptoms, along with NHS and adult social care staff and those in other high-risk settings. Those who are at higher risk of serious illness will be contacted directly and sent lateral flow tests to keep at home for use if they have symptoms. I am also glad that asymptomatic testing will continue in periods of high prevalence in some high risk settings where infection can spread rapidly, including for patient facing staff in health and social care and for a small number of care home visitors who provide personal care.