People who live in England’s tier 3 Covid areas could be free to visit pubs, football matches and mix with more friends and family if they provide two negative tests, under new government plans.
In a bid to offer the public and MPs a glimpse of a possible way out of the “very high risk” areas, the latest “community testing” guide for local councils suggests that individuals who take rapid tests could enjoy tier 2-style freedoms.
The idea, which appears to be the first attempt to flesh out Boris Johnson’s own “moonshot” proposal of extra privileges for those who can show they don’t have the virus, could be trialled in local areas if councils take it up.
A government document, “Community Testing: A Guide For Local Delivery”, published on Monday night, states that new 30-minute lateral flow tests offer the “potential to relax restrictions on a limited basis for those who test negative”.
The guidance says that the pilot schemes would need approval of local directors of public health, national health advisors and health secretary Matt Hancock, but work has already started to prepare national regulations for it.
“Work is underway to rapidly assess options in this space, including the potential to allow the relaxation of tier 3 restrictions down to those normally at tier 2 for a time limited period for those who have two negative test results,” the document says.
“For example, the ability to meet friends and family in groups of six outdoors, the ability to visit venues (such as hospitality venues, indoor entertainment, accommodation) which are otherwise closed at tier 3, and/or the ability to attend large events (such as elite sport, live performances).”
From Wednesday pubs, restaurants and hotels will have to keep their doors closed in tier 3 areas, which will cover 23 million people.
But hospitality firms in tier 2, including London, will be allowed to reopen. Residents will also be allowed to meet outdoors in groups of upto six households and there will be limited attendance at football and rugby matches.
The government guidance to councils says it “will provide all necessary support to determine what would be a safe, responsible and workable approach”, but it admits that issues of “certification, enforcement and legality” would have to be resolved.
It remains unclear just how pubs in tier 3 could practically allow limited opening to people who can show they have had two negative tests within a certain time period.
Some football clubs and other live venues, currently barred in tier 3 from having any spectators, could pilot the idea to allow those who test negative to attend matches.
Issues such as how an individual can verify the home test is their own, how pubs and restaurants would be policed, remain unclear.
The plans seem designed to reassure MPs that “community testing” of people without symptoms, using the rapid turnaround tests bought by NHS Test and Trace, could be a way out of tight restrictions.
However, many councils are wary of the “community testing” idea, given the staff needed to implement it at a time when vaccination programmes and testing and tracing of people with symptoms is more a priority.
Labour’s shadow health minister Justin Madders told HuffPost UK: “This is another example of the Government making unrealistic promises without any idea how’ll they’ll implement them.
“They’ve already ackowledged that they don’t have the resources to put in place mass testing for the whole country at the scale seen in Liverpool.
“If relaxing tier 3 restrictions for people with a negative test result really is their ambition,mMinisters must put in place the plans and resources to ensure mass testing becomes a reality, not just a soundbite. The Government is in danger of losing public confidence in its measures because of its continued focus on unworkable plans.”