Covid-19: Mayor Andy Burnham urges Government to keep free lateral flow tests as case numbers rise

Case numbers and hospitalisations have been going up across Greater Manchester, but that has not translated into extra pressure on intensive care units.

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has urged the Government not to scrap the provision of free lateral flow tests as Covid-19 case numbers rise across the city-region.

Currently the testing devices will not be available without charge to most people from 1 April.

Mr Burnham urged ministers at his press briefing to reconsider this move as data showed significant increases in case numbers and more people in hospital with Covid-19 as well.

Mr Burnham said it was clear the novel coronavirus was still here and the situation needed to be watched.

What did Mr Burnham say about free lateral flow tests?

Mr Burnham told the media on Wednesday (23 March) that he did not think free lateral flow tests should be ditched.

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He said: “It would be a mistake, in my view, to remove the availability of free lateral flow tests from 1 April.

“Individuals will be at risk from that, families will be at risk and so will workplaces.

Mayor of Great Manchester, Andy Burnham

“Also our ability to monitor the spread of the virus will be much diminished. The surveillance function will be reduced and we don’t think that’s a sensible step to take at this point in time.

“I’m echoing the advice of our lead director for public health, Professor Kate Ardern, and we believe the Government should continue to make lateral flow tests available given the recent wave we are clearly experiencing.”

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Mr Burnham said he was not calling for further, widespread measures to be brought in, saying: “We’ve moved beyond that point”.

What does the latest Covid-19 data show for Greater Manchester?

Mr Burnham spoke about keeping free lateral flow tests as the latest data at his press conference showed rising case numbers across all 10 Greater Manchester boroughs in the week ending 18 March compared to the previous one.

The highest rates for the latest week were 756.4 cases per 100,000 people in Trafford and 756.3 per 100,000 residents in Stockport.

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Case rates among the over-60s also rose in the latest week of data across all 10 boroughs of the city-region.

There were also significant rises in the number of people being admitted to hospital who had tested positive for Covid-19 in the fortnight prior to going in and in-patient diagnoses.

These figures were both for the week up to 21 March.

However, between 14 March and 21 March there was only a small increase in the number of people in high-dependency or intensive care units, from 14 to 17.

Overall there were 620 patients with Covid-19 in hospital on 21 March, up from 536 on 14 March.

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Mr Burnham said: “The number of hospital admissions over the last fortnight and people being diagnosed with Covid in hospital has risen quite significantly.

“That is not translating into pressure on high-dependency and intensive care units.

“However, this is clearly a picture that needs to be watched.”

What did Mr Burnham say about Covid-19 in Greater Manchester?

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Mr Burnham said he welcomed the Government’s moves on making a further booster vaccination available for over-75s and people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

In the light of the rising case figures across Greater Manchester, he urged anyone who is eligible to get their extra jab.

Why is the Government withdrawing free lateral flow tests?

Removing universal free lateral flow tests is part of the Government’s Living With Covid plan which seeks to roll back the apparatus set up to deal with the novel coronavirus over the two years of the pandemic.

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Announcing that policy in February, the Government said it believed the country was now in a position to move forward without it regulating and keeping in place domestic restrictions due to the vaccination campaign and the data on Covid-19.

This means encouraging people to continue following public health advice while moving towards treating the coronavirus more like illnesses such as flu.