Usdaw cautions against ending free tests and self-isolation rules  

A sign indicating a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) testing site for asymptomatic people is pictured in Brockwell Park in London, Britain, April 5, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

Retail trade union Usdaw has urged the government not to end free test kits and the requirement to self-isolate next week, saying caution is still needed with infection rates and deaths still being high.

The union also called for a new deal on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

“We can see that rates of coronavirus infections and deaths are thankfully in overall decline, but they are still very high and it is still too soon to be lifting all Covid safety measures,” Paddy Lillis, Usdaw general secretary, said.

Current Covid restrictions are due to expire in England on 24 March, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the remaining domestic rules would end a month early as long as the positive trends in the data continued.

He said that the government would outline its new strategy for living with Covid when parliament returns from recess on 21 February, with rules expected to be lifted later that week, including the requirement for people to self-isolate if they have Covid symptoms or test positive.

Lillis said this would increase the likelihood of shop workers catching Covid, which would lead to more sickness absence, reduced staffing levels and disruption in workplaces.

“Ending free tests and the self-isolation rules will risk more infected people circulating in public and entering shops. Coupled with last month’s unnecessary end to mandatory face coverings in stores, that leaves shop workers at greater risk of infection,” he said.

Lillis said the union is also concerned about the move to end free tests, saying it will “price out poorer people and low-paid workers, particularly if rumours of £100 per test are correct.”

“This is especially worrying given today’s research, led by the University of Manchester, revealing that the impact of the pandemic on the most deprived areas in England and Wales has been even more pronounced than first thought,” he added.

Usdaw’s call for a new deal on SSP include the demands to improve SSP so it reflects average pay, rather than the current £96.35 per week; pay SSP to low paid workers – those earning below the lower earnings limit of £120 per week currently do not qualify for SSP; and commit to paying SSP from day one for all absences, removing any reference to three waiting days.

“Being ill has a huge financial impact on low-paid workers, as too many are forced to live on Statutory Sick Pay of just £96.35 per week. Trade unions secured SSP from day one for Covid absences during the pandemic. This must continue and be extended to all sickness absences, along with sick pay reflecting average pay and being available to all workers,” Lillis added.