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Government’s new daily testing rules for key workers ‘completely ineffective’

TUC argues that new scheme will only cover 1% of those it should

by our Industrial reporter @TrinderMatt

THE Tory government’s new Covid-19 daily testing rules for key workers in England will be “completely ineffective” and cover just a tiny fraction of Britain’s workforce, trade unions have warned.

GMB slammed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s pledge to regularly test 100,000 “critical workers” from today as “gesture politics of the worst kind.”

The TUC argues that, by the government’s own reckoning, more than 10 million people — about a third of the total workforce — are essential workers, meaning the new scheme will only cover 1 per cent of those it should.

From tomorrow testing rules are also to be eased for infected people without symptoms, as public services struggle to cope with massive staff absences due to the rapid spread of the omicron variant. 

Asymptomatic people will no longer need to confirm a positive rapid lateral flow (LFT) result with a PCR test, but any worker forced to self-isolate and applying for a £500 test-and-trace support payment will still need to take a lab-checked test.

GMB director of health Dan Shears said the change was a “recipe for disaster.”

He added: “Scrapping the need for a PCR test following a positive LFT will massively skew the infection figures [as] a positive LFT is only added to official figures if someone inputs results into the NHS system themselves — most won’t do this.

“With statutory sick pay at poverty levels of £96 a week, it creates a perverse incentive for workers to ignore a positive LFT and keep working — potentially infecting lots more people.

“It’s placing responsibility back on the individual, and many people can’t afford it.”

The warning comes after Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi claimed yesterday that cutting the self-isolation period for those with coronavirus still further would “certainly help” ease the burden on staffing pressures.

Last month, the total was reduced from 10 days to seven, and the US has recently slashed it to just five.

The former vaccines minister told BBC1’s Sunday Morning show that the UK Health Security Agency had said that infections might spike still further if Britain followed suit, but the government would keep the measure “under review.”

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said SNP ministers were “not contemplating” the move at the moment, adding it would be “sensible to see the impact” of December’s change first.

Mr Zahawi also accepted that more school staff would be forced to self-isolate as case rates rise following the start of the spring term last week. 

The Stratford-upon-Avon MP said staff absenteeism was at about 8.5 per cent but “will increase because now schools are back, we’re going to see an increase in infection rates.”

He said “contingency planning” would allow schools to stay open and prepare young people for GCSE and A-level exams, which will go ahead.

However, the National Education Union’s joint general secretary Kevin Courtney blasted ministers’ response to the omicron threat as “tardy and inadequate.”

He has joined other education unions to criticise the government’s confirmation that only 7,000 air filters would be rolled out in schools and colleges, saying the move would “barely scratch the surface” as it would just cover about a quarter of educational settings nationally. 

Mr Courtney told the Morning Star: “The government should seek to work closely with school leaders and the wider profession to ensure contingency plans are effective in ensuring that the spread of the virus and the disruption to pupils’ education are minimised.” 

On Saturday, Britain became the first country in Europe to record more than 150,000 Covid deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

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