'Does pressure from backbenchers carry more weight than scientific advice?'

A young women taking a lateral flow test

Lateral flow tests will soon have to be paid for - Credit: PA Images

Why does the prime minister reject simple precautionary measures that curb Covid infection?  

Does pressure from backbenchers carry more weight than scientific advice? Members of Hornsey Pensioners Action Group are worried about the relaxation of rules for those testing positive for Covid and the loss of free Covid self-testing kits. The clinically vulnerable will continue to get free self-testing kits, but the situation will feel less safe; they are likely to avoid going out.  

The advice of SAGE dated February 11, 2022 does not appear to support the new measures. It says: "Removing access to free testing would make it harder for people to take this and other precautionary actions. It may also increase anxiety among those who have found testing reassuring after possible exposure, particularly those who are or live with someone who is clinically vulnerable. Increased ambiguity about a requirement to self-isolate upon testing positive will also disproportionately impact vulnerable sections of the population (medium confidence)." 

Hornsey Pensioners Action Group's Janet Shapiro

Janet Shapiro is concerned about the relaxation of come Covid rules - Credit: HPAG

Independent SAGE suggests that the availability of free Covid self-testing kits may have contributed to reducing peak infections last summer and this winter. Reasons are given for continuing precautionary measures with this statement: "Independent SAGE calls on the government to publish, immediately, the scientific evidence and risk assessments on which it has based this decision. It further calls on the devolved administrations not to follow this path until they have seen convincing evidence that it is safe."

The relaxed rules affect all workers. While better paid professionals can afford to buy self-testing kits and, if ill, get sick pay or work from home, low-paid workers do not have those options. Retail staff and transport workers are at greater risk of infection; mandatory face masks protect them at work. Low paid carers need to test regularly to ensure they do not infect their patients. Must they pay for kits?   

We look forward to warmer weather – when we can venture outdoors and meet friends. One proviso – those of us with hearing loss, who depend upon lip-reading, will be glad to see the back of face masks.  

Janet Shapiro is coordinator for Hornsey Pensioners Action Group.