Low paid workers could be disadvantaged by changes to the Covid testing regime in England, the chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency has warned.
According to a memo from Dame Jenny Harries, people on lower incomes will still be forced to get a PCR test in order to be able to claim the £500 Covid support payment while self-isolating.
This is despite changes being made this week which mean that from 11 January people who are asymptomatic can rely on a positive lateral flow test as proof they have Covid-19, without having to take a confirmatory PCR test.
However, those seeking to apply for a test and trace support payment will still have to get a PCR test because people are not allowed to claim the grant based on self-reported lateral flow results.
The memo from Harries, which was sent to the government before the changes were announced and has been seen by the Guardian, raised concerns that people could receive false negatives under the new regime and would therefore continue working and potentially spread the virus around their communities.
Experts have previously indicated that a PCR test misses a positive result around one in 20 times.
It is understood that government data shows that 45% of all negative PCR results after a positive lateral flow result in England in November were false.
The memo said: “In higher prevalence periods, the abandonment of confirmatory PCR would mean that the people most likely to receive a false negative and therefore potentially become ill and then seek hospital care later and therefore more likely to die would be more likely to be those from lower socioeconomic groups who also have higher risk of underlying health conditions as additional risk factors.”
On 6 January 2022, 179,731 positive Covid-19 tests were recorded across the UK, compared with 189,836 a week earlier on 31 December 2021.
The UKHA has not commented on the leaked memo.