UK denies plan to pay cash to those with coronavirus positive test

A woman wearing a protective mask is greeted by a member of staff as she joins the queue for vaccinations at Lord's Cricket Ground, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in London, Britain, January 22, 2021. REUTERS-John Sibley

The British government said on Friday it had no plans to bring in a 500 pound ($680) payment for everyone in England who tests positive for COVID-19, dismissing media reports that the idea was being considered to encourage people to get tested.

Newspapers cited a policy paper which they said showed the government was considering the move even though it would have cost 453 million pounds a week in response to studies showing many people ignore instructions to self-isolate because of the financial impact of being unable to work while quarantining.

“There are no plans to introduce an extra 500 pound payment,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said. “The vast majority of the public continues to abide by the rules and do isolate when they are asked.”

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Some low-paid people already receive a 500-pound payment if they need to self-isolate, but newspapers said the policy paper had proposed making this a universal payment because a survey had indicated only 17% of people with symptoms were coming forward to get a test.

A separate survey had found that only one in four people were complying with rules to self-isolate for 10 days, with 15% going to work as normal.

Environment minister George Eustice said earlier on Friday the government recognised that self-isolating was “a financial challenge for some”.

Cases surged in Britain at the end of last year, fuelled by a new highly transmissible strain of the coronavirus, leading to lockdowns across the United Kingdom.

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The Office for National Statistics said on Friday the number of people testing positive in England had dipped slightly in the last week but the prevalence overall remained high, with about 1 in 55 people having the virus. On Thursday, Britain recorded 37,892 new cases with 1,290 deaths.

Johnson said on Thursday it was too early to say when restrictions could be lifted, but hopes a mass vaccination programme will pave a way for a return to some degree of normality by the spring.

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