Covid payment of £500 considered for all who test positive in England

Health officials propose new strategy to encourage people infected with coronavirus to stay at home

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The UK government has denied it plans to bring in a £500 ($684) payment for everyone in England who tests positive for coronavirus after the proposal was floated by health officials.

A leaked Department of Health document suggested the universal payment was the "preferred option" to encourage more people to self-isolate as scientists estimate only one in five people with Covid symptoms are staying at home for the required 10 days.

However, Number 10 denied it would act on the proposal.

"There are no plans to introduce an extra 500 pound payment," Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman said. "The vast majority of the public continues to abide by the rules and do isolate when they are asked."

The universal payment could cost the Treasury up to £2 billion a month – 12 times the cost of the current system.

Despite the price tag, the universal payment is said to be the “preferred option” of health officials.

Earlier, Environment Secretary George Eustice said no decision had been taken on the universal payment but indicated the current policy was being looked at.

“No decisions to be made on this, but this is a dynamic, fast-moving situation with the pandemic,” he told Sky News.

The current system allows people on low incomes who cannot work from home and are eligible for benefits to apply for a grant of £500.

The leaked document, first obtained by The Guardian, also suggests that police should for the first time be given powers to access health data to check on people who should be self-isolating.

The proposal also suggests scrapping the £500 payment to close contacts of infected people and instead to introduce nationwide self-testing.

Prof Susan Michie of University College London said the current system was not encouraging enough people with symptoms to get tested.

Commuters take the train at rush hour, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Canning Town underground station in London, Britain, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
People who are infected with coronavirus in England could be paid to stay at home. Reuters

Prof Michie, who advises the government on behavioural psychology, said a universal payment could get funds “out to everyone and get it out quickly”, particularly to those who could not afford to miss work.

"The government is realising [the current system] is a weakness in the whole pandemic strategy," she said on the BBC's Radio 4 Today programme.

The proposal will be discussed soon by the government’s Covid operations committee.

Treasury officials were said to be against the universal payment but some ministers remain concerned that too many people are not staying at home.