Cabinet meeting to sign off PM’s ‘living with COVID’ strategy delayed over free testing row

A cabinet meeting to sign off on Boris Johnson’s “living with COVID” strategy has been delayed due to a row over free testing.

Number 10 has told Sky News that the gathering has been pushed back while the prime minister is briefed, with ministers convening later on Monday afternoon to agree the plan.

Mr Johnson’s spokesman said cabinet has been postponed “so that the prime minister could have both a security briefing and have further meetings to finalise the plan on living with COVID”.

Sky’s political correspondent Tamara Cohen reports that there is a “big disagreement” between the Treasury and the Department of Health about who will continue to get access to free COVID tests.

“The prime minister said over the weekend that we’re spending £2bn a month at the moment on testing,” she said.

“So if you give free tests in the future to say all key workers, 1.5 million NHS staff, perhaps all the clinically vulnerable as well, that can quickly start becoming a very expensive business long-term.

“It sounds as if the Treasury and the Department of Health have both got strong views on that.

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“I’m also told by a source in government that the Department of Health are not calling for new money to pay for testing, but they want to reprioritise some of their budgets towards COVID.

“As in move around money intended for other things towards testing and the Treasury are not that keen on that idea, perhaps they want them to use it for other projects like cutting the NHS backlogs.”

Mr Johnson’s spokesman declined to comment on whether there was a dispute between Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

The spokesman added that on the COVID strategy, “it’s right to take the time to get it right”.

A number of ministers were seen entering Number 10 ahead of the planned meeting, before coming back out a short time later.

Once the strategy has been signed off, the PM will deliver a statement to MPs in the Commons at around 4.30pm

After that, he will address the nation at a Downing Street news conference alongside Professor Sir Chris Whitty, chief medical officer for England, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser.

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