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No end to free lateral flow tests but reduction in isolation time says education minister

The education minister says lateral flow tests will remain free to the public but backs further cut to isolation period if the "evidence is there".

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi says there are “absolutely not” plans to end free lateral flow tests. This comes after a story in the Sunday Times published on Saturday,  8 January, that claims that lateral flow tests will be scaled back as part of plans to live with the coronavirus.

He has also endorsed the reduction of the isolation period for vaccinated people who test positive with Covid-19 to five days, from seven, in line with guidance from the United States.

The report published in the Times said the prime minister would confirm the decision in the coming weeks and quoted a senior Whitehall source as saying the UK would soon move to a scenario whereby there is “less testing”.

However, the education secretary has said that this is not the case and there are no plans to end the provision of free lateral flow tests.

Currently, lateral flow tests are available for free from the Gov.uk website or from most pharmacies.

Lateral flow tests are advised on days on days when you’re more likely to catch or spread Covid-19, for example, at indoor venues and at events with large crowds, or visit someone who is at higher risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sunday on Sky News over the weekend, the Education Secretary said: “I saw the story this morning and I am slightly puzzled by it because I don’t recognise it at all.

“This is absolutely not where we are at, on the contrary. I said to you in my opening remarks that for January alone we have 420m lateral flow tests coming in and they will continue to be available for free because actually, we have three lines of defence: the booster, testing and antivirals.

“I don’t really know where this story has come from.”

The education minister has also spoken out about the Covid-19 isolation period which has recently been slashed from 10 days to 7 if the person tests negative for the virus on days six and seven and has received their Covid-19 vaccinations.

Mr Zahawi endorses the self-isolation period to be reduced again if the “evidence is there”.

Speaking to Mr Phillips, he said, “reducing the self-isolation period would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools and critical workforces”, becoming the first Cabinet Minister to publicly back a reduction in the quarantine period, which has been imposed in the United States for asymptomatic cases.

He also added that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) had said that there might be a higher spike if the period was cut from seven to five days and that the government would follow the science but would keep the potential measure under review.

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