Merseyside health chief’s warning over COVID rise fears as free tests end

Coronavirus rates have been rising across the UK.

Coronavirus infections are rising across the UK, including across Merseyside.

A Merseyside health chief has warned COVID cases could rise rapidly when free lateral flow tests (LFT) come to an end next month.

Councillor Ian Moncur said a rise in infections could add further strain to health services in the borough and put the most vulnerable residents at risk.

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The cabinet member for health and wellbeing for Sefton Council said: “Using regular LFT tests has let us know when we have the COVID virus without feeling unwell or showing the symptoms, and as a result we have been able to protect others and not pass it on unwittingly.

“I am worried that with COVID case numbers and hospitalisations in the UK already rising, people will not be able to afford to start paying pay for tests when they face huge rising prices in the shops and at petrol stations, an eye-watering leap in the cost of domestic fuel, increased train fares and, from next month the Government’s National Insurance hike.

“This could lead to a rise in infection levels across Sefton’s communities and increased pressure on our medical services again.”

Cases steadily rising across Sefton

While numbers in Sefton are a far cry from the thousands recorded while Omicron was raging at the turn of the year, cases have been steadily rising since the end of February when the rate had reached a low of 214 per 100,000.

Today that rate stands at over 600 cases per 100,000 with over 1600 active cases in the borough. Hospitalisation rates have remained low and steady however, with no patients requiring mechanical ventilation for covid at Southport and Ormskirk hospital since February.

Vaccine uptake has tailed off considerably in the borough although current figures show . Around 80% of people in Sefton have received first and second doses, with booster numbers standing at approximately 62%.

The government announced the move to end funding for test centres and free lateral flow tests last month as part of its “living with covid plans.”

The change affects nearly everybody, who will have to pay from April 1 to take the tests.

Cllr Moncur said: he is worried that the charges, which could be as much as £6 each, will mean households on the lowest incomes, will have to make a choice on whether they can afford a COVID test before visiting someone who is potentially vulnerable.

He added: “Once again, despite the Government’s talk about levelling up, those least able to pay are being put at the most risk with a greater chance they might unknowingly passing on COVID to those vulnerable relatives, friends and colleagues.

“We will continue to give out the free test packs at our Test Centres while stocks last until Thursday 31 March when we have to close them.”