Monday, 4 Jul 2022

Scrapping free testing ‘will hinder ability to swiftly detect new variants’ warns doctor

Covid-19: Sir Patrick Vallance warns 'virus hasn't gone away'

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While the removal of free testing affects everyone, it impacts the 500,000 immunocompromised Britons the most.

If someone is immunocompromised it means they have a weakened immune system, one more vulnerable to a disease like Covid.

As a result, people in this category have had to be very careful and shield during the pandemic; free testing allowed them to be sure any friend or family member they met up with wouldn’t pose a risk to their health.

Dr Kinane said: “Scrapping free testing may force vulnerable individuals back into isolation and have an adverse effect on their quality of life. The absence of free testing could leave some vulnerable groups, particularly immunocompromised and immunosuppressed individuals, at risk.”

Dr Kinane described this as “worrying, especially with the recent spike in case numbers and hospital admissions”.

Prices for a new test vary, but amidst a cost-of-living crisis people are unlikely to pay for a test if it means they can save as much money as possible.

It’s not just the immunocompromised who are affected by the removal of free testing, so is the government’s ability to spot new variants.

On this Dr Kinane said: “The scrapping of universal free testing will hinder our ability to swiftly detect new variants and take appropriate action to contain their spread.”

“The UK’s globally lauded testing regimen has ensured that new variants have been quickly detected, enabling the Government to take swift action such as supercharging the booster programme late in 2021.”

“This substantial drawdown in testing will slow our ability to analyse mutations of the virus and consequently delay crucial public health interventions to control its spread,” continued the doctor.

With fewer test results, the UK Health Security Agency will be less able to detect new variants and identify which areas of the UK have the highest level of Covid.

Dr Kinane says: [D]oing away with free testing might discourage people from testing regularly in turn reducing the availability of data required to swiftly identify new variants and mutations of the virus, and craft timely public health response.”

Currently the UK is awash with Covid with nearly five million people in the country positive with the virus last week.

Scientists and doctors have raised concerns over the decision to remove Covid restrictions and free testing given the dearth (lack of) evidence cited by the government.

However, while the general public no longer has access to free testing, NHS and frontline workers will still be able to test for free.

On people who test positive the government says people must “try and stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days, which is when they are most infectious”.

Meanwhile, separate guidance for young people has also been issued: “Children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home and avoid contact with other people where they can.”

With no requirement in law to follow this guidance, there are questions over whether a significant proportion of people will follow the advice.

As a result, critics argue the responsibility for controlling the transmission of the virus has shifted from the government to the public.

For more information on COVID-19 contact the NHS or consult with your GP.

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