EVERYONE with Covid could soon be given £500 under radical plans being considered to curb the spread of the virus.
The proposed one-off payments for testing positive would cost a staggering £453 million a week but ministers hope it would encourage more people to get swabbed and self-isolate.
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It comes after a government polling found just 17 per cent of people with coronavirus symptoms are coming forward for a test.
Ministers fear low turn out is because people know they will not be able to work if they test positive and think the universal payment could reverse that, The Guardian reports.
And as it stands, only those on a low income who cannot work from home and receive one of seven means-tested benefits are eligible for the current £500 test-and-trace support payment (TTSP).
But Environment Secretary George Eustice said he hadn't heard of the the plans.
"I understand it was from a leaked document and I have to confess I haven't seen it," Mr Eustice told BBC Radio 4.
"The Government obviously constantly keeps all of these policies under review, we've already had £500 support payment for those on certain benefits, recognising that it's harder for them to self-isolate.
"Whether that is something that is changed or expanded is obviously kept under review."
The Environment Secretary added: "At the moment we are in a full lockdown anyway so while people can leave to work, in many cases people will be staying home anyway."
It comes as:
The Government's latest cash splash plan would grant those who test positive the £500 sum.
However, it’s possible the payment could be limited to those who cannot work from home.
Detailed in an official policy paper, the proposal is one of four options which could expand the existing financial help.
And the latest payment option is said to be the Department of Health's "preferred position".
In a 16-page document, dated January 19 and marked “Official Sensitive”, the proposed action reads: “Anyone who tested positive for Covid-19, irrespective of their age, employment status or ability to work from home, would be eligible for TTSP.
"This would be straightforward for local authorities to administer, though it would lead to significantly greater volumes of applications than under the current scheme.”
Police could also be given access to health data to enforce quarantine under the proposals, seen by The Guardian.
The current TTSP excludes many small business owners, sole traders, self-employed workers and parents whose kids have been told to self-isolate.
Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the single biggest reported barrier to requesting a test.Policy Paper
Councils are given an additional pot of “discretionary” funding, but figures released this week showed three-quarters of applicants were being rejected.
An official review of the scheme found it excludes too many people with only one in four of those eligible are actually given financial support.
Meanwhile, another recommendation for firing up test numbers is to roll out nationwide self-testing for those already isolating.
The policy paper explained: “Wanting to avoid self-isolation is now the single biggest reported barrier to requesting a test.”
It means the possibility of a negative Covid result would encourage people to get swabbed if it means they can go back to work.
The government’s coronavirus operations committee will consider the latest incentives drawn up by Matt Hancock's team in a meeting chaired by Michael Gove on Friday.
Describing the universal payment as “the preferred DHSC position,” officials estimate it would cost up to £453m a week if there were 60,000 cases a day – 12 times the current cost of £36.5m a week.
It would cost £340m a week if there were 45,000 infections a day, as at present.
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It comes after a further 37,892 people tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday, while another 1,290 lost their lives to the bug.
And a new study by Imperial College London researchers appears to show that lockdown has failed to drive cases down.
The PM has refused to say if lockdown restrictions will still be in place by the summer - and warned it "unquestionably will be a tough few weeks ahead".