Ed Davey: Scrapping Covid tests means 4 million face £500 tax on caring

Boris Johnson’s latest attempt to rehabilitate himself with sceptical Tory MPs is to scrap the need to self isolate if you have Covid in England. So you are now free to spread it far and wide. You would think that you would have to monitor the impact really carefully. That is way too sensible for this Government who also reportedly plan to scrap free lateral flow tests. So we will have no idea how many cases we have  until hospitals start filling up.

The BBC asked this week if this move was brave or stupid. NHS chiefs said it was an unnecessary risk and the Guardian reports that SAGE said that it would be harder for people to take precautionary measures and cause anxiety amongst vulnerable groups.

But following the science comes second to following the whims of Conservative MPs, it seems.

Ed Davey and the Lib Dems have done some research into the cost of lateral flow tests for those who need them to keep loved ones safe.

The latest figures show that every week nearly four million people take regular Covid tests, taking two tests a week on average. This includes people who take tests to protect their elderly relatives and friends, or vulnerable workers who work in people-facing industries such as hospitality and are concerned about their health.

Those people now face an average hit of £534 a year, assuming lateral flow tests cost around £5.80 each. This is based on the average costs of a lateral flow test in similar Western countries including Belgium, France, Spain and the US.

Ed said that this would lead to a lockdown by stealth for vulnerable people:

Charging people for the tests they need to safely see vulnerable loved ones is a tax on caring, that risks leaving millions of people in lockdown by stealth.

It means vulnerable people will see fewer loved ones and will be able to enjoy less of their lives. It is unfair and unjust.

Ministers need to scrap these plans to stop a cost of living with Covid crisis.

Throughout the pandemic, people have been trying hard to do the right thing and keep others safe. The Government should not be making that harder.

Internal polling by the party reveals that only one in five people support the scrapping of free Covid lateral flow tests, instead of being charged £5 per test. Opposition to the ending of free tests is shared by Conservative voters, with over half (52%) saying they should never be scrapped and another 23% saying they don’t support ending them now but would in the long term.

Our editor pointed out on Twitter the effect that this could have on her family meeting up for Sunday lunch:

Access to free testing is vital for all and gives the double benefit of getting back to as normal a life as possible while protecting vulnerable people and helping them manage their own risk.

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  • George Thomas 20th Feb '22 - 5:13pm

    Would Boris be doing this without partygate? Would he be doing it without the large number of covid-skeptic backbenchers who think “living with covid” means pretending it doesn’t exist?

    4 million in the UK who are being forced to act with greater risk earlier than majority in health and scientific circles advise because of internal Tory party politics. It’s a gamble the Tories made with Omicron and think they got away with it (mainly because public services are so underfunded that calling in the army for support is now a regular response and not as damaging a headline as it should be) but we’re seeing in Hong Kong how much of a gamble it was.

  • Barry Lofty 20th Feb '22 - 5:40pm

    The more I read about this government the more disgusted I am with their self serving incompetence, just what the country needs with the problems we are facing at the moment, also not helped with a Prime Minister trying to deflect attention away from his personal indiscretions!!. Two experts I heard recently on the BBC Today programme, think the complete abandonment of all the rules regarding the spread of Covid is really misguided and I have to agree.

  • Brad Barrows 20th Feb '22 - 5:56pm

    Even though, in theory, this announcement is just for England, in practice the other countries of the UK will probably be forced to follow due to limitations in the current devolution settlement which links the UK funding that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland receives to that provided by the UK government to England. Cutting the covid testing funding from England’s budget will mean that funding is also cut for the other countries.

  • Ending free testing is a sensible move; there are better ways to waste £15 billion a year. Now we know (as South Africa predicted) that Omicron won’t overwhelm the NHS, there’s no longer any need to spread the remaining infections out. The UK has an exceptionally high level of immunity against severe symptoms and hospitalisation…

    UKHSA: ‘COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report Week 7’ [17th. February 2022]:

    Based on antibody testing of blood donors, 99.1% of the adult population have antibodies to COVID-19 from either infection or vaccination compared to 28.6% that have antibodies from infection alone.

    Unless you’re going into hospital, seeing a dentist, or visiting someone who’s immunocompromised then testing for Covid is now largely pointless. The Omicron variants (BA.1 and BA.2 sister-clades) are highly transmissible, but fortunately have low pathogenicity with symptoms similar to a common cold. They’ve now almost completely displaced the more serious but less transmissible Delta variant, with Omicron BA.2 now slowly displacing BA.1. We’re all going to be exposed to it sooner or later if we haven’t been already. Research shows it provides good immunity against other variants. Some doctors have described Omicron as a polyvalent vaccine and as “the vaccine that we failed to make”.

  • Protection now needs to be focused on the immunocompromised where the continued provision of free tests for visitors and carers may be justified. The government have yet to make any statement about that. Prophylactic antibody treatments, such as AstraZeneca’s Evusheld, may be of benefit…

    ‘COVID-19: Israel approves AstraZeneca’s Evusheld vaccine for immunocompromised’ [15th. February 2022]:

    Evusheld has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and has proven to be 83% effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19.

    If a tiny fraction of the money wasted on Test and Trace had been spent on promoting vitamin D3 supplementation (4,000-5,000IU per day) then a great many lives may well have been saved. The evidence for vitamin D continues to accumulate, but is still dismissed by NICE. Unfortunately, few politicians have the applied science background that might give them the critical thinking skills and intellectual confidence to challenge the often poor advice given by the medical establishment.

    ‘Pre-infection 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 levels and association with severity of COVID-19 illness’ [3rd. February 2022]:

    Patients with vitamin D deficiency (<20 ng/mL) were 14 times more likely to have severe or critical disease than patients with 25(OH)D ≥40 ng/mL.

  • Chris Moore 20th Feb '22 - 8:38pm

    I strongly agree with your remarks re vitamin D3. The evidence is copious for the value of D3 in various covid contexts. Anyone in vulnerable categories should be taking 4000-5000 iu per day. On entry to hospital all covid patients should be given a mega-dose.

    Ending free testing will save 15 billion a year? That’s 240 pounds per capita. Need to wind down that figure, Jeff!!

  • Chris Moore 20th Feb ’22 – 8:38pm:
    On entry to hospital all covid patients should be given a mega-dose.

    Would need to be the active form, calcifediol, as vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) takes several days to be converted by the liver.

    Ending free testing will save 15 billion a year? That’s 240 pounds per capita. Need to wind down that figure, Jeff!!

    ‘UK ministers press ahead with plan to wind down Covid testing’ [14th. February 2022]:

    Whitehall sources say the Treasury is driving efforts to reduce costs from an estimated annual £15bn, with an opening suggestion of cutting the budget by more than 90%, to £1.3bn.

  • Just one question has anyone had any side effects from taking vitamin D, just out of interest?

  • Chris Moore 21st Feb '22 - 7:40am

    Jeff, you’re right, calcifediol was what was used in a major trial at the hospital of Granada for new in-patients with Covid. Spectacular results.

    Yes, a very useful link: the 15bn figure refers to the tracing system, all testing of Covid, and isolation payments, not the free lateral flow tests. So MUCH less than 15bn will be saved from cancelling the free tests.

    Barry, obviously, there are contra-indications for certain patients. Also, like with any other intervention, there can be side-effects. However, the risk profile is very favourable indeed compared to existing interventions. Really scandalous that those are being favoured over a very cheap, safer and more effective intervention.

  • If you agree with this article, then please sign the petition to Parliament “Do not end legal obligations to self-isolate if people test positive for covid” https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/606834

  • @ Barry Lofty As to charging for Covid Tests, thank goodness I live in Scotland where things seem to be better and more generously organised here.

    As to your question about Vit D side effects, Barry, I’ve been on prescribed twice daily Vit D tablets (amongst a number of other things) since June, 2011 when I had a transplant op in Edinburgh. I can report no side effects as yet…… though obviously always consult your Doc.

  • David Garlick 21st Feb '22 - 10:29am

    I agree with Ed… I guess that going forward we will need to either put up tax or share the cost with the Gov’t or be responsible for the tests costs. I expect this Gov’t will want to make us all pay but that under pressure will find a way to make it free for the most vulnerable. More importantly when will the Gov’t launch the promised enquiry into their handling of the pandemic? Too late now for a report prior to the May elections so I guess they might try to postpone announcing it until after that to avoid the media attn.

  • John Marriott 21st Feb '22 - 10:49am

    Like David Davis MP, my wife and I have been taking Vitamin D tablets for years. Although we recently recovered from COVID we shall still be taking them and carrying on wearing masks in confined spaces. Complete opening up now has more to do with trying to retrieve popularity than doing the right thing. However, only time will tell.

    It is interesting to note that there is evidence that people with dark skins cannot absorb Vitamin D from sunlight as well as people with light coloured skins. Could that be one of the main reasons why the former are more likely to succumb to serious infection?

  • @David Raw, thanks for that information David you are obviously a reassuring voice for the benefits of Vitamin D.

  • Barry Lofty 20th Feb ’22 – 10:35pm:
    Just one question has anyone had any side effects from taking vitamin D, just out of interest?

    In the summer when the sun is high in the sky our skin synthesises vitamin D from UV-B radiation. An hour or so of half-body exposure can produce an equivalent of around 25,000 IU (International Units). Oral supplementation of up to 10,000 IU per day is generally considered to be safe. The principal indicator of possible vitamin D intoxication is hypercalcemia – an excess of calcium in the blood. Research shows that this usually only occurs with exceptionally high doses taken over a long period.

    In this study, Subject 2, was taking 2,200µg (88,000 IU) per day and their serum calcium level of 2.63 mmol/L was only just over the accepted reference range…

    ‘Self-prescribed high-dose vitamin D3: effects on biochemical parameters in two men’ [January 2008]:

    Serum calcium is monitored in most clinical vitamin D studies such as this one…

    ‘Human serum 25-hydroxycholecalciferol response to extended oral dosing with cholecalciferol’ [January 2003]:

    …in our study, 20 wk of supplementation at 5500 and 11 000 IU/d, starting from a status of relative vitamin D repletion, produced no elevation of serum calcium above the upper limits of normal in any subject.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Feb '22 - 1:49pm

    Helping each other is important, personally,of course, politically also too.

    Agree on Vitamin D. Been taking it a while.

    Good to see David Raw here and John Marriot, keeping well and safe.

    Like what Barry said. Govt playing with these regulations to curry influence with right wing libertarians

    The free tests ought to continue, it is wrong in my opinion to stop those, because we shall not have enough certainty to stay home if unwell without symptoms.

    Removing the encouragement to work from home, is wrong, as is, in particular, what is appalling stopping the essential requirement to stay at home if with any symptoms.

    I have always thought we should stay home with even a cold, until, after a few days, not contagious. It is rude and foolish to sit next to someone, shake hands, with symptoms.

    It is ridiculous and dangerous in a pandemic.

  • Chris Moore 21st Feb ’22 – 7:40am:
    …the 15bn figure refers to the tracing system, all testing of Covid, and isolation payments, not the free lateral flow tests.

    It’s not clear from that article (or others elsewhere) what is being included. However, the free testing under review presumably includes the more expensive PCR tests and associated testing facilities.

    This article suggests that the cost of testing was £2 billion a month in January…

    ‘Over-80s set to get free Covid tests as they are scrapped for majority of public’ [20th. February 2022]:

    The Telegraph understands those aged 80 and above are likely to continue to be offered free tests, along with staff and patients in hospitals and other high-risk settings such as care homes.

    Details of the plans were still being finalised on Sunday after wrangling between Rishi Sunak’s Treasury, seeking to rein in the £2 billion a month cost of testing, and Sajid Javid’s Department of Health and Social Care, which has been arguing that more protections for the vulnerable need to be maintained.

  • Chris Moore 21st Feb '22 - 3:39pm

    Good, so we’re agreed, cancelling free lateral flow tests will save much less than 15bn. My best guess is it would be less than a tenth of that sum.

    We also agree on D3. Dismaying lack of consistency of NICE in its recommendations on COVID treatment.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Feb '22 - 5:24pm

    A very good comment from Chris, NICE, often no this description!

    Martin is correct, govt and media cannot be trusted on this to give the info we need, due to abdicating responsibility, if others, irresponsible, step in that are less trustworthy sources, that’s to be expected and yet regreted!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 21st Feb '22 - 5:29pm

    And does anyone know why NICE are as they are on this and much else?

    It seems that as it is trial and error, on much with Covid, natural and traditional remedies, not farfetched ,ought to at least be looked at. There is too much “alternative bad, mainstream, good,” often this might be so, but not always, and liberal minded ought to mean open minded when unsure. Interesting the ignoring of SAGE on self isolating with covid, but accepting NICE, re: vit D!

  • John Marriott 21st Feb '22 - 6:50pm

    @Barry Lofty
    To save you brain overload, I think that ‘Jeff’s’ answer to your question is basically NO.

  • John Marriott 21st Feb ’22 – 10:49am:
    It is interesting to note that there is evidence that people with dark skins cannot absorb Vitamin D from sunlight as well as people with light coloured skins.

    Indeed there is…

    ‘Differences and determinants of vitamin D deficiency among UK biobank participants: A cross-ethnic and socioeconomic study’ [November 2020]:

    Severe vitamin D deficiency remains an issue throughout the UK, particularly in lower socioeconomic areas. In some groups, levels of deficiency are alarmingly high with one-half of Asian and one-third of Black African ancestry populations affected across seasons.

    Could that be one of the main reasons why the former are more likely to succumb to serious infection?

    Such a hypothesis would be consistent with the evidence.

    ‘Excess deaths from Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Doctors during the Covid-19 Pandemic’ [November 2020]:

    Most weeks in the British Medical Journal we can read six obituaries to UK doctors who have died. […] I have divided them into two groups, White and BAME (Black African and Asian Minority Ethnic groups). […]

    What is most dramatic and disturbing is the complete lack of overlap between the ages at death of the white and BAME groups.

    Age range White: 84 to 107

    Age range BAME: 46 to 79

    …we are dealing with only doctors, a homogenous group. We can therefore eliminate confounding factors such as income, housing, or socio-economic status.

  • @Chris Moore – “Good, so we’re agreed, cancelling free lateral flow tests will save much less than 15bn”
    Yes the cost of LFT’s is going to be minor compared to the costs of PCR testing with its need for lab processing. If I remember rightly, the UK bulk purchased lab time and so were able to push a high volume of PCR tests through the system for no additional cost.

    Given the evidence is showing LFT’s as being pretty good indicators, it is a little surprising the government seems to be doing away with both LFT and PCR at the same time.

  • Chris Moore 22nd Feb '22 - 7:33am

    @Yes, Roland, you’re right, doing away with free lateral flow tests will only save a few hundred million.

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