Now Government considering £500 payout to everyone who gets Covid

People walk past a Government sign warning people to stay at home on the High Street in Winchester, Hampshire
People walk past a Government sign warning people to stay at home on the High Street in Winchester, Hampshire (PA Wire)
9:38am, Fri 22 Jan 2021
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Ministers are considering paying £500 to everyone who tests positive for coronavirus to increase the number of people abiding by quarantine rules, a Cabinet member has confirmed.

Environment Secretary George Eustice stressed the need for people to comply with the isolation rules when contacted by NHS Test and Trace amid concerns of low compliance.

Scientists welcomed the suggestion of more financial support but Treasury sources were adamant the plan will not go ahead, with one telling the PA news agency bluntly: “Won’t happen.”

It is estimated the proposal of extending £500 payments to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19 in England, rather than just those who are on low incomes and are unable to work from home, would cost up to £453 million per week.

It is the “preferred position” of Matt Hancock’s Department of Health and Social Care, according to a leaked document seen by The Guardian.

Mr Eustice told Sky News: “We do need people, if they are asked to self-isolate because they have been contacted through our Test and Trace, we do need them to self-isolate.

“And, obviously, we always review the reasons why they might not.”

On the payment, Mr Eustice added: “No decisions have been made on this.

“But this is a dynamic, fast-moving situation with the pandemic.

“We are always keeping multiple policies under review.”

There was hostility to the proposal in some parts of the Government, with one source saying the plan “incentivises people to catch Covid”.

Some kind of support for people so they can see through their isolation is actually pretty important, so that we really do get on top of these numbers

But there was support from experts, with Dr Mike Tildesley, from the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), suggesting measures are needed to boost compliance.

“One of the key things actually that we need to think about is not necessarily just ramping up the rules if things don’t seem to be working but actually looking at making the rules better that we have in place, and one of the key problems actually is people isolating,” he told Times Radio.

“Some kind of support for people so they can see through their isolation is actually pretty important, so that we really do get on top of these numbers.”

Dr Tildesley suggested there were signs the “lockdown is possibly working” in getting the virus’s spread under control, but said it was “unclear how we can tighten restrictions further”.

Mr Eustice said a full border closure to all visitors from abroad has been considered, adding that there “is concern at the moment about the number of mutant strains”.

The £500 payment plan was reportedly prompted by Government polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing.

Some 25% are thought to comply with rules to self-isolate for 10 days after testing positive and 15% continue to go to work as normal.

If you have 82% of people with symptoms wandering around the community, it is very, very difficult to bring this level down

Professor Susan Michie, an adviser on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “There is a particular group of people who would need more from that £500 but at least the Government is recognising this is a key weakness in the whole pandemic strategy.

“If you have 82% of people with symptoms wandering around the community, it is very, very difficult to bring this level down.”

The Resolution Foundation think tank said the current approach, which it estimates only around 13% of workers are eligible for, is “not fit for purpose”.

Researcher Maja Gustafsson said: “Swiftly putting in place a much more universal and generous system will make a real difference to controlling the spread of the virus.”

The Government is grappling with ways to bring the infection rate down as the vaccine programme is rolled out.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been unable to rule out that the national lockdown in England may last until the summer.

In Northern Ireland, the lockdown was extended for a further four weeks until March 5.

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