People with no coronavirus symptoms will have to pay for 'Operation Moonshot' tests, the head of the government's testing programme has said.
Dido Harding told a meeting of business leaders that not all the proposed 15-minute checks would be made available for free on the NHS.
Individuals who wanted a test to show they could resume a "normal life" without spreading the virus would be charged, a webinar hosted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) was told.
“For that sort of test that may be a normal cost of doing business to be able to have non-socially distanced activities, but that’s different than for symptomatic people who should always feel like they can come to an NHS service," Ms Harding said.
The government has said moonshot tests - which do not yet exist - could potentially reduce the need for social distancing at work, thereby increasing office capacity.
However health experts have warned that the mass testing programme - which aims to provide ten million tests a day at a cost of £100bn - is “not feasible” and poses a “massive gamble”.
The Department of Health and Social Care said in a statement that the new tests would be available for free "for those who need it".
However a spokesperson confirmed that other options were being explored: "Deploying the next generation of tests, which may reduce the need for social distancing in specific circumstances, will require a collaboration between businesses, Government and the NHS."
Labour's shadow minister for public health said that Ms Harding's comments suggested the programme risked creating a "two-tier pay-to-hug' system.
Alex Norris MP said: “Instead of threatening to charge people for coronavirus tests, the government should be focused on fixing the system.
“The current testing fiasco will not be sorted by creating a two-tier ‘pay-to-hug’ system for families across the country.
“When Boris Johnson makes his statement tomorrow he needs to rule this proposal out and put forward a credible plan to expand testing.”