minister has defended a major scaling back of free Covid tests amid concerns being raised by Tory and Oppposition MPs.
Business minister Paul Scully stressed that billions being spent on the free tests could instead be used for services such as cancer treatment and dealing with the NHS backlog.
He admitted that a “fine balance” needed to be struck between protecting public health, and ditching all Covid restrictions and other measures to get back to life closer to normal to boost the economy.
He also argued that Britain was well-placed to move from the pandemic stage of the Covid crisis to the endemic phase where the disease is treated more like flu.
But former Tory children’s minister Tim Loughton raised concerns over restricting lateral flow tests too tightly.
The East Worthing and Shoreham MP told the BBC’s Westminster Hour: “It’s two years on now from when this wretched pandemic started, and we have got to learn to live with Covid and not lock everything down and retreat until it goes away because it’s going to be with us for some time to come.
“I’m pleased we’re trying to get back to as normal.. normality as possible.”
However, he added: “I have slight apprehensions in that I think we still do need to have testing available widely because I think that is the reassurance people can have that they’ve taken all possible precautions and they don’t want to infect other people.”
Boris Johnson was chairing Cabinet on Monday morning, which was expected to agree to end the legal obligation to self-isolate if positive and a major reduction in free LFT tests.
London minister Mr Scully told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a fine balance.
“We can’t continue to spend £2 billion a month on testing when there are other measures..where we can get back to a more semblance of normal life.
“That £2 billion could be spent on other priorities, for example people may be worried about cancer diagnoses. these kind of things, and backlog in the NHS.”
He also emphasied: “We want to get people back into their workplaces, we want to get the economy working.
“There is that fine balance because we have obviously got to look after people, make sure that they are safe, we have also got to make sure that we can allow our economy to recover because that in itself has positive benefits for people’s health and well-being and of course the public finances.
“We need to make sure that because of the vaccination, because of the 38 million booster vaccinations that we have had, we are well-placed to be able to move into that endemic stage.”
Speaking later on Sky News, he added: “It’s important that we don’t work and live under Government diktat for a moment longer than is necessary to allow the economy to recover, to allow people to get back to a sense of normality.”
He stressed it would be down to individuals and their employer whether they went to work while positive for Covid.
But he added: “I would say like any illness, any transmissible illness, you would say stay at home. If you had flu or something like that, you would normally expect people to take the view but it will be down to themselves or down to their employer.”
However, some scientists and Opposition MPs are raising concerns over axing the requirement to self-isolate if positive and restricting free tests just to the elderly and vulnerable individuals, as reported was being discussed by the Government.
Labour raised doubts over whether the Government was following scientific advice with its proposals around scaling back on the availability of free lateral flow tests, or if the moves were being adopted to please backbench Tory MPs to persuade them to back Mr Johnson whose premiership is under threat from the “partygate” scandal.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting stressed: “We are not out of the woods yet on Covid.”
Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of Sage’s modelling subgroup, told Times Radio there was a “real concern” that getting rid of the rules would lead to more infections in workplaces.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the Council of the British Medical Association, called it an “odd decision to make” when there are “more people dying, more people in the hospital” than before Plan B measures were introduced last year in response to the pre-Christmas rising tide of Omicron cases.
The Prime Minister has said that his “living with Covid” plan will bring the country “towards a return to normality”.
He said the proposal would be about “finally giving people back their freedom” after “one of the most difficult periods in our country’s history”.
The UK was one of the worst hit European nations during the first wave of coronavirus in spring 2020 and the number of people having Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate has now risen to more than 183,000 according to the Office for National Statistics.
The Prime Minister’s announcement will come just over 24 hours after it was confirmed the Queen had tested positive for coronavirus.
UK Government data, as of Sunday, showed that 11,555 people are currently in hospital with coronavirus, with 331 of those in ventilation beds.