HEALTH minister Eluned Morgan has warned continued mass Covid testing in Wales will be difficult without UK Government support. 

Both Morgan and first minister Mark Drakeford have described Boris Johnson’s decision to end free universal testing in England as ‘reckless and premature’. 

Today Wales’ health minister told BBC Radio Wales that the decision could mean testing in Wales cannot be conducted as it has through the majority of the pandemic if the infrastructure is no longer in place. 

She also described it as “shocking” that routine testing will no longer be available for health care workers in England and expressed concern over what the decision will mean for those unable to afford to pay for a test. 

The Labour minister said: “It's really important we consider all those people who are at risk and it's clear they haven’t even thought about how vulnerable people who can’t afford a test will be able to test if they are not paying for those tests in future.” 

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But asked if the Welsh Government would continue with testing if the UK infrastructure remains in place Morgan said it isn’t a decision the Welsh Government can make without information and said Whitehall couldn’t provide that information during a call yesterday. 

She said a decision is due to be taken at next week's review, on March 4, but said: "The fact is if the infrastructure is not there, particularly for PCR testing, it would be difficult for us to maintain that."

Ahead of the prime minister’s announcement Welsh secretary Simon Hart said mass testing is costing the UK around £2 billion a month and claimed the Welsh Government is in a position to continue with it if it wishes. 

The Conservative minister wrote on Twitter: “If Welsh Government want to continue funding blanket testing going forward then that is a decision for them, they already have the adequate resource & funding to do so. This will mean tough decisions against other priorities, but that’s what mature governance is all about.” 

Last week the Welsh Government outlined the difficulties a UK Government decision on ending mass testing could cause its programme in Wales. 

During this morning’s Radio Wales interview the health minister said Wales would “like to continue mass testing in Wales for longer than they forsee in England but it all depends om maintaining infrastructure. 

“I’m very concerned to see they are not offering testing to health workers in particular who will be exposed to vulnerable people.” 

Morgan said using funding for testing could impact on Wales record long waiting lists and “that would be very unpalatable”. 

The prime minister set out England’s strategy for “living with Covid” on Monday as he hailed the development of vaccines and treatments for coronavirus as “possibly the greatest national effort in our peacetime history”. 

He also said “we should be clear that the pandemic is not over”, warning “there may be significant resurgences”. 

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Professor Sir Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, said the Omicron wave is “still high”, adding that new variants are anticipated, with some expected to “just disappear”, while others will cause “significant problems”. 

The Welsh Government is next due to review Covid regulations on March 4 and has previously said it could end self-isolation laws, which end in England this week, at the end of March. 

The British Medical Association (BMA) warned England’s “living with Covid” strategy “fails to protect those at highest risk of harm from Covid-19, and neglects some of the most vulnerable people in society”. 

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said: “Living with Covid-19 must not mean ignoring the virus all together – which in many respects the Government’s plan in England seems to do. 

“On the one hand the Government says it will keep monitoring the spread of the virus, and asks individuals to take greater responsibility for their own decisions, but by removing free testing for the vast majority of the population on the other, ministers are taking away the central tool to allow both of these to happen. 

“Far from giving people more freedom, today’s announcement is likely to cause more uncertainty and anxiety.” 

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Groups representing vulnerable individuals also sounded the alarm over the end to isolation laws, with the Scope disability equality charity saying it would usher in a life “living with fear”. 

Blood Cancer UK warned that the plan “will cause huge anxiety among immunocompromised people and leave many of them feeling abandoned”, while the MS Society said the scrapping of free universal testing is “not only reckless but dangerous”. 

Meanwhile, unions condemned the decision to end the entitlement to statutory sick pay from day one for people with Covid-19. 

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On March 24, changes to statutory sick pay and employment support allowance designed to help people through the pandemic will come to an end including in Wales as the policy is controlled by the UK Government. 

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TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady warned that the decision will lead to people taking the infection into the workplace because they cannot afford to take time off. 

“The Government is creating needless hardship and taking a sledgehammer to public health,” she said. 

“The failure to provide decent sick pay to all, from the first day of illness, is reckless and self-defeating. 

“If people can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick, they will take their infections into work. 

“Ministers’ inability to grasp this fact will leave the UK vulnerable to future variants and pandemics.” 

All coronavirus laws in England, including the legal requirement for people who test positive to isolate, are set to end on Thursday, before free universal testing is scrapped in April. 

Those who receive a positive Covid test will still be advised to stay at home for at least five days, but will not be obliged to under law under the plans subject to parliamentary approval. 

Sir Chris urged people who test positive for the virus to self-isolate, despite the change in rules. 

Under the plans announced on Monday, routine contact tracing will also cease on Thursday, as will the £500 self-isolation payments and the legal obligation for individuals to tell their employers about their requirement to isolate. 

Free universal testing will then be massively scaled back from April 1. 

Remaining symptomatic testing will be focused on the most vulnerable, with the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) set to determine the details. 

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