A COVID-19 infected nun, middle, arrives for treatment in a UK hospital

UK Ministers are mulling expanding paying £500 as incentive to everyone who tests positive for Covid-19, to encourage more turnout for tests.

Under the current system, only those on a low income who cannot work from home and are eligible for benefits are entitled to a “support payment” of £500.

But ministers are considering replacing that system with a universal payment, meaning anyone who had a positive test could claim the funds.

According to The Telegraph, the move has been costed at up to £453 million a week if there were 60,000 cases a day – 12 times the cost of the current approach.

The plan would cost the state almost £2 billion a month, the newspaper reported.

Health officials are understood to have drawn up the proposals amid concern that just one in six people with symptoms are coming forward for tests because some fear a positive result and self-isolation would cost them too much.

The proposal for universal incentive comes as coronavirus R number in the UK dropped since last week, suggesting the lockdown has halted its spread.

The R, which refers to the number of people that an infected person will pass COVID-19 on to, is between 0.8 and 1 across the UK, according to the figures released on Friday by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Last week, the R – or the reproduction number – was between 1.2 and 1.3 for the UK as a whole.

The growth rate is now estimated to be between -4% to -1% – last week, this was between +2% and +5%.

Regional variations of R – or the reproduction number – indicate where the virus is spreading fastest.

The update comes as separate figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed there had been a slight drop in the number of people infected with coronavirus in England after lockdown measures were introduced.

An estimated one in 55 people in private households in England had COVID-19 between 10 and 16 January, down from one in 50 people for the Christmas period of 27 December to 2 January.

The data is from a random sample of people, including those with no symptoms, but does not include care homes, hospitals or other institutional settings.