Public health advice is no longer being followed under Boris Johnson’s “living with Covid” strategy to end mass testing, senior civil servants have acknowledged in a leaked account of a cross-Whitehall briefing.
The briefing by a senior member of the Covid taskforce was delivered to civil service leaders across Whitehall on Thursday afternoon, making clear that following public health advice was no longer the sole priority.
The senior official said public health advice would not be met in NHS or social care settings in relation to the testing of staff, and that was a “decision that the PM, chancellor and indeed the cabinet have agreed to”.
On the call, he said: “It will be the case from 1 April that testing in DH own settings including the NHS and adult social care will not fully match the public health advice because of spending considerations. We will not be testing adult social care staff or NHS staff at the frequency recommended by clinicians because there is not the funding to pay for it.”
Johnson has repeatedly stressed throughout the pandemic that he would “follow the science” and listen to his public health experts. However, that appears to have ended with the “living with Covid” strategy, which set out a timetable for winding down testing and scrapping mandatory isolation.
The government has not published its public health advice from the UK Health and Security Agency but it is understood its advisers did not recommend winding down testing unless the prevalence of Covid was at a low level in the UK and that the pandemic was in a “steady state” near to endemicity. The government’s experts do not believe that state has currently been reached.
Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, stood beside Johnson in a press conference as he announced the strategy but they struck a much more cautious note, urging people to carry on washing their hands and wearing face masks in enclosed spaces.