Changes to Covid restrictions next week could prove costly for workers who fall ill with coronavirus as the self-isolation payment is set to be scrapped.
Boris Johnson is expected to ditch the £500 test and trace support payment as part of his ‘living with Covid’ plan.
The Prime Minister will set out the strategy for how the UK can live with the virus when Parliament returns from a short recess on Monday 21 February.
The requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for coronavirus is also expected to be scrapped, with the change set to come into effect a month earlier than scheduled.
Changes to current testing measures could also be changed in the long-term strategy, along with new arrangements for international travel.
The government said last month that rules were unlikely to change while coronavirus cases were so high, with the focus instead being on tackling rising infections which has put huge pressure on the NHS, schools and public services in recent weeks due to mass Covid-related staff shortages.
However, the PM said remaining legal regulations could be axed if “encouraging trends” in the data continue.
What measures could form the ‘living with Covid’ plan?
Changes to the current Covid-19 testing regime and self-isolation period are expected to form long-term plans for equipping the UK to live with the virus.
Free lateral flow tests
Plans reportedly being considered could see free lateral flow tests scaled back, with the tests to only be available in ‘high-risk’ settings, such as hospitals, care homes and schools.
Mr Johnson said last month that the government will continue to make lateral flow tests available “for as long as is necessary”, but highlighted the importance of vaccination and urged people who have so far refused a jab to “join the movement” and get vaccinated.
During a visit to a vaccination clinic in Uxbridge in January, he said: “We are going to have to make sure we continue to use testing as one of our most important lines of defence for as long as is necessary.
“The other line of defence in addition to testing is of course getting vaccinated.
“The boosters are going well. We have now done 36 million boosters – 90% of people over 50 – but clearly there is an opportunity for people who have not been boosted.
“Loads of people have had two jabs but they haven’t yet come forward for their boost and I say to everybody: join the movement.”
Cabinet minister Michael Gove said that lateral flow tests will continue to be free for “as long as we need”, but refused to rule out the possibility whether the free tests will eventually be phased out.
Speaking to Sky News, he said: “We are moving to a situation – we’re not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid, and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.
“There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live – viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.
“So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and – I think for all of us – the sooner, the better.
“But we have got to keep the NHS safe.”
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 is expected to be lifted later this month.
The rule was due to expire on 24 March but is now likely to be lifted a month earlier than planned, with Downing Street saying the move “shows that the hard work of the British people is paying off”.
Mr Johnson will present his “living with Covid” plan on 21 February, with the aim of lifting the requirement to self-isolate within days of that.
However, the PM’s official spokesman clarified that No 10 would not recommend people go to work if they test positive for coronavirus.
He said: “What we would simply be doing is removing the domestic regulations which relate to isolation.
“But obviously in the same way that someone with flu, we wouldn’t recommend they go to work, we would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions, Mr Johnson said: “It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.
“Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.”
The Prime Minister’s press secretary said businesses would be given a “wide range of guidance” on how to treat employees following the removal of the self-isolation requirement.
£500 self-isolation payment
As well as the expected scrapping of the legal requirement to self-isolate if you have Covid, the £500 test and trace support payment is also set to be ditched by 24 February.
The payment is currently available to people on low incomes, parents and guardians of children who have tested positive, who have to self-isolate and are left out of pocket as a result.
This includes people who are self employed and cannot work from home, and will not have their wages covered while off sick.
The payment is only available to people living in England.
Downing Street said its plan for “living with Covid” will also set out what arrangements will be in place for international travel.
This is likely to include guidance on Covid-19 testing requirements and self-isolation rules for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers when returning to the UK from abroad.
Travel rules were signifcantly relaxed last week, with changes from 11 Feburary meaning fully vaccinated travellers no longer need to take any Covid-19 tests on arrival in the UK.
Under previous rules, it was a requirement to take a post-arrival lateral flow test at a cost of around £20.
Rules for unvaccinated arrivals were also eased so that people no longer have to self-isolate when they return home, or take a day eight test.
It was previously a requirement for people who are not fully vaccinated to self-isolate on arrival and take a post-arrival PCR test on day two and day eight.
Unvaccinated travellers do still need to show proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken two days before returning to the UK, along with just one post-arrival PCR test.
All UK arrivals also still need to complete a passenger locator form before returning home, but the government has pledged to simplify this following complaints it is too complicated.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said these is a more “proportionate system that moves us a step closer to normality while maintaining vital public health protections.”
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