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Businesses warn against end of free Covid tests

Boris Johnson set out plans to end nearly all Covid rules in England in the House of Commons on Monday.

Free tests and self-isolation rules will end, as well as self-isolation payments for those on low incomes.

The British Chambers of Commerce said the government “must not pass on public health decisions on to businesses”.

“Access to free testing is key to managing workplace sickness and maintaining consumer confidence,” its co-executive director, Claire Walker, said.

“If the government is to remove this, companies must still be able to access tests on a cost-effective basis,” she added.

People who test positive for Covid will no longer have to isolate by law from this Thursday – and from April will not even be advised to stay at home if infected, the prime minister said.

Free lateral flow tests will be scrapped for everyone from 1 April but care home residents, hospital patients and other vulnerable groups will be given free tests if they have symptoms.

However, Dan Shears, national health and safety director for the GMB Union, criticised the prime minister’s announcement as “nonsensical”.

“Asking people to exercise responsibility whilst taking away a key workplace provision for them to do that just shows how incompetent this government is.

“The UK’s poverty statutory sick pay (SSP) rates, among the lowest in Europe, are a public health hazard as workers cannot afford to stay home when they are ill,” Mr Shears added.

Unions argue that around two million workers in England do not currently qualify for SSP.

Speaking alongside Johnson at a Downing Street press conference, they emphasised the need to keep monitoring for new variants, with Whitty warning that Covid could still cause “significant problems” and cautioning that it is not a “trivial” illness.

Johnson emphasised “personal responsibility” for Covid in future, rather than the government setting restrictions to control it. He said “pharmaceutical interventions”, such as antivirals and vaccines, would be the primary line of defence from now on.

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