Everyone in England who tests positive for Covid-19 could automatically be given £500 as part of plans ministers are reportedly considering to boost quarantine compliance.
The proposal is said to be the “preferred position” of the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), according to a leaked sensitive document seen by The Guardian.
The overhaul, the paper reported, has been prompted by Government polling indicating that only 17% of people with symptoms are coming forward for testing, while just one-in-four comply with rules to self-isolate for 10 days after testing positive and 15% continue to go to work as normal.
The £500 handout scheme would cost up to £453 million per week – 12 times the cost of the current system.
The Resolution Foundation, a think tank which has previously calculated that only one in eight workers qualify for the financial support currently offered to those told to self-isolate, welcomed the proposal.
Researcher Maja Gustafsson said: “The current approach is not fit for purpose with statutory sick pay among the least generous of advanced economies and far too few people eligible for the £500 support payments.
“Swiftly putting in place a much more universal and generous system will make a real difference to controlling the spread of the virus.”
The DHSC said it would not comment on a leaked paper but did not deny that blanket self-isolation payouts had been mooted.
A Government source suggested it was just one of many options being discussed as part of improving stay-at-home compliance for those who had tested positive.
“We are in one of the toughest moments of this pandemic and it is incumbent on all of us to help protect the NHS by staying at home and following the rules,” said a DHSC spokesman.
“All local authority costs for administering the Test and Trace support payment scheme are covered by the Government, and each authority is empowered to make discretionary payments outside of the scheme.
“£50 million was invested when the scheme launched, and we are providing a further £20 million to help support people on low incomes who need to self-isolate.”
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister refused to rule out the lockdown lasting until the summer, while Home Secretary Priti Patel said it was “far too early” to speculate on whether restrictions would be lifted in time to allow Britons a foreign holiday during the warmer months.
Northern Ireland has confirmed its coronavirus lockdown is to be extended for a further four weeks to March 5.
The Government’s caution in announcing a timetable to ease the lockdown has sparked fears in the hospitality industry that ministers could be preparing to tell pubs and restaurants to keep their doors closed until May, despite the Government aiming to have vaccinated all the most vulnerable by next month.
As 1,290 further deaths were reported on Thursday, and experts modelling the pandemic suggested there could be a huge surge in cases if restrictions were lifted too early.
Dr Marc Baguelin, from Imperial College London, who sits on the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M) which advises the Government, said the opening of the hospitality sector before May would lead to another “bump” in transmission.
But UKHospitality chief Kate Nicholls warned delaying reopening until then would mean there would be “very little left” of the sector once the measures were finally eased as Tory MPs urged Boris Johnson to stick to the timetable of restoring freedoms by March.
Former chief whip Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Research Group of lockdown sceptics, said: “Once the top four risk groups have been vaccinated and fully protected by March 8 – assuming the Government hits the February 15 deadline – the Government must start easing the restrictions.
“Vaccinations will of course bring immunity from Covid, but they must bring immunity from lockdowns and restrictions too.”
Police Federation of England and Wales chairman John Apter said he is “pleading” with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to prioritise police officers for coronavirus vaccinations.
He told Good Morning Britain on Friday: “The most vulnerable in society must be vaccinated, and colleagues from the NHS, but my colleagues are vulnerable. They can’t mitigate this virus, they are not immune from this virus.
“Tragically, in this last week alone, we’ve lost colleagues to this virus. Police officers are up close and personal with people, they have to go hands-on, they have to make arrests.
“I am pleading with the vaccination committee to look at my colleagues, as well as teachers and firefighters … my colleagues are at risk.”
– Arrivals from Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo will be banned as of 4am on Friday as the UK looks to prevent the South African Covid-19 variant from taking hold.
– Home Secretary Priti Patel announced a new £800 fine for people who attend house parties with more than 15 people.
– NHS England regional medical director for London Dr Vin Diwakar said that, while the vaccine programme brought hope, the situation in hospitals remained “really precarious” with “intense” pressure on staff.
Official figures up to January 20 showed 4,973,248 people had received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, an increase of 363,508 from the previous day.
Based on the latest figures, an average of 401,070 people a day will need to be vaccinated to meet the target of reaching the 15 million highest priority cases by February 15.
The Government also said that, as of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 37,892 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total number to 3,543,646.