NICOLA Sturgeon has warned Downing Street that abandoning the scheme which provides free lateral flow tests across the UK would be “utterly wrongheaded”.

The First Minister spoke out after it was reported the tests could be limited to high-risk settings – such as care homes, hospitals and schools – and to people with symptoms.

The Sunday Times also said the announcement, which could come within weeks, may include a scaling back of the NHS Test and Trace system.

However, a Tory minister has since contested the report.

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not signed up to the move, but if Johnson was “really considering this” it would be “utterly wrongheaded”.

“Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid,” she tweeted.

The First Minister questioned what would happen to devolved nations’ funding for testing under the Barnett formula if the Westminster Government went ahead with the move, adding: “Testing so vital, we’d have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets.”

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The Scottish Government accesses lateral flow tests that are procured by the UK Government on behalf of all four nations, and it pays for them via funding arrangements as part of the UK-wide national testing programme.

Government sources disputed the report and said it was too early to say what the future holds for free lateral flows.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at.

“For January alone 425 million lateral flow tests (are) coming in and they will continue to be available for free.

“I don’t really recognise where that story is coming from.”

Asked whether there are plans to stop lateral flow tests being free, he said: “Absolutely not.”

Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting commented: “This would be the wrong decision at the wrong time.

“Testing is absolutely crucial for keeping infections under control and avoiding the need for further restrictions that impact on our lives, livelihoods, and liberties.

“This additional cost will also hit families at a time when they face a cost of living crisis. It means people simply won’t take them, putting others at risk.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

The rapid tests were made available to everyone in the UK, crucially including those without symptoms, in April.

They have been seen as a key way of suppressing the virus and have given confidence to people to safely mixed with their loved ones, particularly around Christmas as cases of the Omicron soared.

The National: A positive lateral flow test cassette

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But the Sunday Times report suggested there is concerns in Whitehall over their costs.

A UK Government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, and instead said: “Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.

“Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.”

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford responded to the Times report by demanding that the UK Government commit to fund lateral flow tests for everyone, for as long as deemed helpful to public health.

He said: “The suggestion that the UK Government was considering scrapping free Lateral Flow Tests right now was dangerous and, quite frankly, mind boggling.

“We continue to see UK Government shutting its eyes to the reality of the pandemic so this suggestion was sadly believable and, understandably, caused significant public concern.

“Lateral flow tests are a vital part in tackling the spread of Covid 19 and allowing us to live with more normality than at previous stages in the pandemic.

“It is now imperative that the Tory Government commit to continue to fund free Lateral Flow Tests for everybody for as long as necessary - this reassurance is vital given the very concerning considerations that have been widely reported.”