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SCC Likely to Provide Covid Testing for ‘Critical Groups’

Published on: 1 Apr, 2022
Updated on: 5 Apr, 2022

A lateral flow test showing a positive result

By Julie Armstrong

local democracy reporter

Surrey County Council is likely to provide free asymptomatic Covid tests for people “in critical groups” if the government goes ahead with taking these away as planned on Friday.

Under England’s plan to live with Coronavirus, the national government’s universal provision of free home test kits ended yesterday (March 31), just over two years after the first lockdown commenced.

They will still give free tests to social care staff and a small number of unidentified “at-risk groups”, but only if they have symptoms.

Cllr Will Forster

Speaking at a Surrey County Council meeting last week – where a quarter of councillors sent their apologies – Will Forster (Lib Dem, Woking South) said: “There’s widespread concern that this move is premature, could lead to serious local outbreaks and add to the cost of living crisis.

“That is not right, it’s not fair, it’s not sensible – but it’s what this government is planning to do.

“Looking around the chamber it is quite clear that many fellow councillors are off, most with Covid.

“Numbers in the community are very high, a stark reminder that Covid is still with us.”

One rapid lateral flow test can be bought for £2 from boots.com, a pack of five for £9.80 or a pack of 25 for £49.

Portsmouth City Council will be stepping in to extend free testing for all its residents, with or without symptoms. Its public health director said that to ensure the cost of buying tests does not dissuade people from taking them, they will allow every household in the city to collect five free lateral flow tests a month until the end of June.

In contrast, Surrey will not provide tests for the general population – but it has promised to look into doing this for patient-facing health and social care workers and “other similar groups” such as those eligible for free prescriptions.

Cllr Forster proposed a motion, unanimously agreed, calling on the government to continue with free asymptomatic testing for people in critical groups – and failing this, the council would instead explore the option of doing so itself “for up to one year”.

This was on the recommendation of the council’s public health team.

Councillor Rachael Lake (Con, Walton) said: “I think it’s important free testing is kept in vulnerable areas, until we are on a little bit stronger footing.”

Cllr Tim Oliver

Surrey County Council leader Tim Oliver yesterday (March 28) said he had raised the matter of asymptomatic tests with cabinet member Michael Gove.

He predicted Surrey’s provision for front line workers would be continued “until around June time when the weather improves”.

He said: “I understand the rationale to say it’s out in the community and we’ve got to get used to that and if you’re symptomatic then you should self-isolate just as you would do if you had flu.

“But certainly over the next few months, until we get to warmer weather and people are more outside and windows are open, I do think there is a strong argument for continuing with testing those who are at the front line.

“I suspect those needing to test regularly won’t do that because the cost of them will probably be prohibitive.”

Many going online to try to take advantage of the last week of free tests are being told: “The 119 service does not have access to more home delivery slots right now.”

The government’s “Living with COVID-19” guidance says their test and trace programme cost £15.7 billion in the financial year 2021-22, more than the Home Office budget.

This level of spending was “necessary due to the severe risk posed by Covid-19 when the population did not have a high level of protection” but the population “now has much stronger protection against COVID-19 than at any other point in the pandemic” through the vaccination programme, natural immunity and access to antivirals.

A council spokesperson said once the government publishes further national policy on symptom-free testing, “the public health team will be able to consider how to implement it, taking the current local situation into account”.

He added: “Statistics show that the vaccine remains the best form of protection from the virus. It is never too late to book yourself in and get vaccinated.”

Surrey had an average infection rate of 972.2 cases per 100,000 people in the week ending March 26, which is above the England average of 860.1.

For Surrey, this was down seven per cent on the previous week – which had seen a 23 per cent rise – but for England it continued to go up, though at a slower pace.

There were 2,164 people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in the South East in the week up to March 23, a rise of 10 per cent on the week before.

See also: Local Covid-19 Stats

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