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pressed once more on whether the government is considering phasing out lateral flow tests but not for the coming weeks, mr gove said.

"moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with covid" he told sky news.

Free lateral flow tests Mr Gove said it is "impossible to predict" for how long free lateral flow tests will be necessary.

Reports on Sunday that free lateral flow tests could be axed under a strategy of living with Covid within weeks were met with a swift backlash.

The former vaccine minister and now education secretary Nadhim Zahawi was clear that ministers were "absolutely not" planning on ending free LFTs, after a report that free tests are to be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.

Moving to 'living with COVID' But when asked by Kay Burley on Monday for how long the devices will remain free for all, Mr Gove said : "It is the case that in this country lateral flows are free- unlike in many other jurisdictions- they are a vital tool in making sure that we can curb the spread of the infection and also that people who need to isolate do so.

more than £6bn of public money has been spent on mass testing using the devices.

So what is the future for lateral flow tests ( LFTs ) – paid for or free?

As Boris Johnson faces pressure from some Tory MPs to set out plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions and deliver a vision for living with the virus, Mr Gove told Sky News the UK- and particularly England- has one of the "most open" and "one of the most liberal approaches of any country in Europe".

Calls to cut isolation to five days He added that it would be for the prime minister and health secretary to decide whether to cut the period of COVID isolation to five days from seven.

What we have got to do is give the NHS all the help we can through the next period."

With case numbers wildly outstripping the UK's laboratory testing capacity, lateral flow tests continue to be vital for tracking case numbers.

However, we need much better real-world evidence on the most effective way to target testing.

It is likely that this would continue to include screening healthcare workers and carers of vulnerable people.

Mr Zahawi said he was "slightly puzzled by" the story in The Sunday Times, which quoted a “ senior Whitehall source ” who suggested that there were concerns about the cost of the testing regime and that an announcement over LFTs could come within weeks.

It is obvious that both within the cabinet and Downing Street there are splits over what is seen as the best way forward.

So it's possible that such reports are being used to test the public reaction to possible future measures – or at least, that individuals may be seeking to do so.

A senior Whitehall source is quoted as saying : "I don't think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody.

He urges Mr Johnson to revitalise the country with "free markets, free debate and low taxes".

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