Sir Keir Starmer has said ending free coronavirus testing “is a mistake” which would increase the risk of Covid transmission.
The Labour leader was commenting after reports first emerged on Tuesday that free lateral flow (LFT) and PCR tests are set to be scrapped next week.
The change would mean everyone – including vulnerable people, children and health and care workers – would have to pay to access tests for the virus, in plans first reported by LBC.
On a visit to Birmingham’s Erdington constituency on Wednesday, ahead of a by-election there next month, Sir Keir said: “I think ending free testing is a mistake.
“Covid isn’t going away.
“Obviously all of us want restrictions to be release, but it’s still important that people test if they’ve got symptoms or if they’re going to see somebody who is particularly vulnerable.
“And if you take away free tests then that will diminish the likelihood of that and make it worse in the long run.”
The ending of free testing is part of the Government’s “living with Covid” strategy, to be launched on Monday, according to LBC .
It added that, going forward, it is believed the spread of the virus in the community will be monitored by surveillance schemes, such as from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The Government previously said “universal free provision” of LFTs will come to an end at some stage, although it has said no decision has been taken on timings when responding to reports there could be an announcement on the ending of free testing next week.
Last week, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to remove all remaining measures in England a month early – from about February 21, when MPs return to Parliament following the half-term break.
Sir Keir said: “It’s not a good idea to get rid of free tests on the health grounds, nor is it economically the right thing to do.
“I think inevitably they’ll be less tests but I do still think that as we go forward, if people have symptoms, that they do need to test, if they’re going to see someone who is particularly vulnerable, let’s say in a care home, it’ll be important to test.
“So anything that reduces that is not good for health and it’s not good the economy in the long run.”