NICOLA Sturgeon has accused Boris Johnson of “inexcusable negligence” if he scraps free Covid testing.
The First Minister tweeted this afternoon that reports about the plans, to be announced later, would be “catastrophic” for the country’s ability to monitor Covid.
A Cabinet meeting, due to be held at 10am, to finalise the Prime Minister’s ‘living with covid’ plans was delayed until this afternoon, with the reason thought to be related to a row between the Department of Health and the Treasury over plans to remove the majority of free testing for the virus.
Downing Street has remained tight-lipped over the delay, saying the meeting was “postponed until this afternoon so that the Prime Minister could have both a security briefing and have further meetings to finalise the plan on living with Covid.”
When asked what parts of the plan were still to be finalised, he said he was “not going to get into” it, adding: “You’ll have the final plan later today and obviously the PM will be in the House to present it to Parliament.”
He added that a press conference, which will take place this evening, will be attended by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Advisor, who will field questions alongside Mr Johnson.
Asked if today was the first time Mr Johnson’s plan was to be presented to the full Cabinet, the spokesman said: “Yes. Obviously, relevant cabinet ministers have been discussing this for some time.”
When asked about reports of a row between the Department of Health and the Treasury, the spokesman did not deny any friction but instead said: “I’m not going to get into the nature of ongoing discussions about any government policy.”
Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that if there is to be no extra cash to allow free covid testing, it would be “Catastrophic for the UK’s ability to ensure adequate Covid surveillance, outbreak management etc in future.
“To allow significant dismantling of the testing infrastructure built up in the last 2 years would be inexcusable negligence given ongoing risks.”
The BBC reported that health secretary Sajid Javid asked the Chancellor for an additional £5bn last week to ensure more people could still receive free testing, such as NHS staff if they did not show symptoms.
This was then scaled back, with requests lowered to £3bn, then £1.8bn.
It has been reported that the dispute has now been settled with no extra funding being provided.
The Government is thought to be planning to scrap all free testing except for people in hospital, and for the over 80s.
This means anyone else, including employers, would have to pay for tests.