By Barbara Kollmeyer and Callum Keown
As COVID-19 deaths and infections climb in the U.K., the government is considering a one-off payment of £500 ($684) to keep those who test positive off the streets.
The plan has been floated after a Cabinet Office poll showed that just 17% of those with symptoms are coming forward to get tested, for fear that a positive result will jeopardize jobs and financial situations, the Guardian reported, citing a leaked policy document.
Faced with a COVID-19 situation that is as bad as last March, mobility data shows Brits continue to move around despite restrictions.
Paying people to self-isolate could cost the government up to £453 million a week, which is 12 times the cost of current payout schemes, the report said. The government also wants to empower the police to track down quarantine offenders by providing health-care statistics.
In September, the government introduced £500 support payments for those set to lose income after being told to self-isolate. The scheme is only available for those in work, on benefits — the Universal Credit social-security payment — on low income, or facing the prospect of financial hardship due to being made to self-isolate. The opposition Labour Party claimed that three-quarters of applications for the discretionary payment were rejected between October and December.
However, the new proposal being considered by ministers would include anyone in the country who tests positive for the virus that causes COVID-19.
“Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the biggest reported barrier to requesting a test,” said the Department of Health document’s authors, according to Sky News . They added that only one in four people were self-isolating for the full 10-day period, while 15% carry on going to work.
Among other options the government is considering are a lump sum for those testing positive and unable to work from home, at a cost of up to £244 million weekly, or payment to those who earn under £26,495 a year or receive benefits, which would come to £122 million a week.
Environment secretary George Eustice said it was “quite challenging” for some people to self-isolate if they were in financial difficulty and needed to continue working. “We’ve got to consider all sorts of policies in order to make sure that people abide by the rules, are able to abide by the rules and we get the infection rate down,” he told BBC Breakfast .
Home Secretary Priti Patel on Thursday announced a new £800 fine for those who attend house parties, with that penalty doubling for repeat offenders up to a maximum of £6,400. It came as the U.K. reported 37,892 new cases of the disease and 1,290 deaths.
The government is reportedly also not ruling out extending the current lockdown into summer. When asked whether the lockdown may need to be extended into the summer, Prime Minister Boris Johnson didn’t rule out such a move, warning that the new coronavirus variant was more contagious. He added that it was “unquestionably going to be a tough few weeks ahead.”
Separately, European Union leaders meeting via a videoconference on Thursday couldn’t agree on whether to close borders again between countries , but urged individuals to avoid traveling in Europe as much as possible.
They cited specific concerns about new variants, such as the one discovered in the U.K. that has sparked a wave of infections. Several countries are imposing stricter measures and lockdowns, with France shutting all bars and restaurants until at least February and imposing a 6 p.m. curfew for the entire country.