Government’s decision to scrap free Covid tests shows ‘willingness to sacrifice lives’, says councillor

A vaccination in Islington. Photograph: Islington Council

The government has been accused of being “willing to sacrifice the lives and safety of people” by scrapping free Covid tests.

Sue Lukes, Islington council’s executive member for community safety, said her initial reaction to the government’s announcement was “one of horror.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said free Covid testing will end on 1 April for anyone bar vulnerable people and those in specific jobs.

From Thursday, people who test positive will no longer legally have to self-isolate but will be advised to stay at home for five days.

It comes as the number of Covid patients, including those on ventilators, in north London is dropping.

Islington’s public health director Jonathan O’Sullivan said a feared “big rise” of deaths from the current Omicron variant has not happened, and the death rate has fallen.

Vaccination centres are also reporting a drop in people getting their jabs.

Cllr Lukes said it was essential to encourage residents to get vaccinated and people are still getting their first vaccine now.

The vaccination programme is also focusing on pupils aged 12 to 15 who are getting their doses now.

The government has announced a fourth jab for the over-75s and the most vulnerable.

The health and care scrutiny committee is concerned that ending free testing will hit people with low incomes hard.

Cllr Tricia Clarke said “it’s going to mean that a lot of our people are not going to get access of testing”, adding: “It seems very irresponsible that the government has just cut that off from our people.”

There were 1,243 people in Islington testing positive for Covid in the week to 21 February, down 12 per cent on the previous week.

Cllr Lukes said the council would work to ensure that everyone who is still  entitled to free tests from April gets them.

It will also encourage employers with people who are vulnerable to consider letting them work at home or fund regular tests for their colleagues.

Cllr Lukes said employers had a duty to make reasonable adjustments for their employees as part of disabiliity discrimination legislation.

She said the council might hold an outbreak control board to do scenario-planning.

“We need to prepare for the next outbreak, the next variant,” she said.

Islington will join a national day of reflection on 23 March suggested by the Covid Bereaved Families for Justice campaign and Marie Curie.

Whilst it is still early days in the planning, Cllr Lukes said the council is looking at involving faith groups.

She said memorial spaces were created to mark the loss of people to Covid. The aim was to have a plant for everyone who died from the virus, but sadly more need to be planted to commemorate the 411 residents.