Kate’s latest column for the Shields Gazette:
Last week the Government announced plans to remove all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in England, including the legal requirement for infected people to self-isolate.
Under the Government’s plan for living with Covid-19, restrictions in England have now reverted to guidance instead of legal rules.
By doing this, they said, it would make England the “freest country in Europe”.
However, there are 500,000 immunocompromised people at high risk from Covid-19 who are not free.
A number of leading charities including the MS Society, which represents immunocompromised and disabled people, remain very concerned about the Government’s plans. From 1st April, their family members, friends and unpaid carers cannot be sure that they are not exposing those closest to them to infection unless they can pay for a test.
The scrapping of free universal testing has been described as “not only reckless but dangerous”, with some charities fearing that vulnerable people may be forced back into isolation.
Two weeks ago I wrote to the Prime Minister, raising these concerns and I raised this matter with him again during Prime Minister’s Questions in Westminster yesterday.
Throughout the pandemic, universal free testing has been a crucial tool, helping many vulnerable people to continue living normal lives by providing reassurance that those they are meeting do not have Covid.
Now universal free testing will be massively scaled back from the beginning of next month, and will instead be focused on the most vulnerable, with the Government developing further plans on who will be able to access free testing which it will announce shortly.
Ahead of this, I wanted to ensure that the Government are aware of these concerns. It really is essential that the Government continues to make sure that those at the highest risk continue to have the protection they need.
Charities warn that the Government must continue to make free lateral flow tests available to people who are eligible for Covid-19 treatments (including the immunocompromised), and their households and personal contacts – regardless of whether they have symptoms.
They must provide new money to the NHS and Local Authorities to fund regular testing of frontline health and social care staff and continue to require employers to carry out Covid-19 risk assessments for high-risk employees.
If we are to truly move forward and live with Covid, the Government must ensure that friends and family of vulnerable people can get free tests and address the concerns of immunocompromised people who fear they are being abandoned by the Government.
The Prime Minister’s plan for living with COVID-19 fails to give a credible explanation of how over 500,000 immunocompromised people can live safely alongside the virus.
The announcement of a further booster is welcome. But that’ll be of little comfort to people who are less protected – or not protected at all – by further vaccine doses.
The Prime Minister must urgently address these concerns as we move to a new phase of the pandemic, so that all 500,000 immunocompromised people will be protected and supported to manage their risk so they can live normal lives.
As a nation, we will be unable to live alongside Covid-19 if the Government continues to leave the most vulnerable behind.