Will the “Freedom Pass” Scheme Reduce COVID Restrictions?

Mass testing could be an incredibly important tool to use against coronavirus

Self-isolation exemptions are a supposed feature of the UK Government’s Winter Plan to control the spread of Coronavirus across the UK. This comes after Conservative MP, Jeremy Hunt urged the Prime Minister to implement ‘freedom passes‘ which would be offered to those who receive frequent testing. 

The scheme’s aim would allow UK citizens to get back a sense of normalcy by avoiding the two-week isolation requirement that is currently in place. This would enable anyone with a negative test to “go out, shop and go to work” while also excluding them from wearing a mask. If a so-called “freedom pass” were introduced, UK citizens would need to be tested at least twice a week before showing proof of a negative Coronavirus test. 

 The Effects of Mass Testing

While the scheme could be successful, many have discussed how testing levels will need to be increased quickly through mass testing. However, since its success in Liverpool, where 300,00 people were tested, there is hope that the concept of mass testing is viable. This was reinforced on 26 November, as the Secretary of State of Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock expressed the government’s gratitude towards the people of Liverpool who “embraced community testing”. Matt Hancock announced the city’s relocation from tier 3 to tier 2 which will offer more freedom from Tuesday 2 December. 

Mass testing also commenced on 30 November in tier three institutions, including The University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol. The Vice-Chancellor at UWE has described the mass testing of students and staff as “inconvenient”, however, agreed that universities “have a role to play to limit the spread across the country – and this is one way that we can do it.”

While the scheme could be successful, many have discussed how testing levels will need to be increased quickly through mass testing

Testing in universities hopes to prevent the spread over the Christmas period, as students return home within the travel window of 3rd to 9 December. While the tests are not mandatory, many students and staff members have opted in to “safeguard the health and wellbeing of our friends, loved ones, and those around us.”

Many students will be able to travel home from Thursday 3 December. However, anyone who has tested positive must self-isolate for up to 14 days in their term-time accommodation before they can travel anywhere. This showcases the potential that a “freedom pass” can offer via a positive test result for students and the rest of the UK. 

A test for coronavirus being administered [Image Azulillo, IStock.com]

How the Freedom Pass Will Aid the NHS

The government is also focusing on COVID testing for hospital workers, which will aid the NHS, who are currently facing substantial staff shortages. This includes staff who are self-isolating or calling in sick with physical and mental health issues due to the stress they are under. At North NHS Trust Bristol alone, 226 COVID-related absences were recorded as of 4 November, showcasing the extent of the problem. This is included in the 300,000 staff shortages reported at the start of November. 

While the scheme could be successful, many have discussed how testing levels will need to be increased quickly through mass testing

The increase in staff absences is detrimental to the NHS, especially as they may lose workers without British Citizenship when the new Immigration Act is enforced in January 2021. However, overall, implementing mass testing in hospitals across the UK will allow the NHS to reduce the COVID burden as more employees return to work in good health.

The introduction of the freedom pass should also encourage more people to get tested, reducing the risk of spreading and, the government hopes, hospitalizations. With hospital admissions exceeding 1300 per week on 22nd November, this move can only aid a system under great strain. 

Header image [Rimma Bondarenko, IStock.com]