Grant Shapps addresses cost of PCR tests for travellers
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Holidays are set to return in a matter of weeks but anyone going abroad still has a number of hoops to jump through. The Government continues to put great emphasis on testing as the UK battles to keep out Covid variants. “The risks posed by these variants remain significant, and restrictions for inbound passengers, such as 10-day managed quarantine, home quarantine, and stringent testing will remain in place – but will apply to people differently depending on whether the destination visited is categorised as ‘green’, ‘amber’ or ‘red’,” explained the ‘framework’ from the Department of Transport this morning.
Testing rules are as follows:
Green: arrivals will need to take a pre-departure test as well as a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on or before day two of their arrival back into the UK – but will not need to quarantine on return (unless they receive a positive result) or take any additional tests, halving the cost of tests on their return from holiday.
Amber: arrivals will need to quarantine for a period of 10 days and take a pre-departure test, and a PCR test on day two and day eight with the option for Test to Release on day five to end self-isolation early.
Red: arrivals will be subject to restrictions currently in place for ‘red list’ countries which include a 10-day stay in a managed quarantine hotel, pre-departure testing and PCR testing on day two and eight.
However, many are concerned about how expensive these tests will be, with costs often around £150.
Twitter users slammed the Transport Secretary after he appeared on BBC this morning.
“Of course the cost for PCR tests can be driven down @grantshapps …. other countries charge as little as £20-£30 ….. why is this not possible in the UK!” one wrote.
“Beggars belief, £37bn for t&t & were still buying expensive outsourced tests from private companies,” another tweeted.
A third posted: “Despite being pushed by @TVNaga01, @grantshapps wouldn’t be drawn on what is an acceptable price for PCR test on arrival. The answer is surely, cheap Lateral Flow Test and, if found positive, then a full PCR. This will pick up variants of concern and be manageable for providers.”
Some revealed the high costs of the tests meant they would no longer be able to go on holiday.
One Twitter used commented: “It’s so very disappointing to hear. We were due to see friends in Crete 8 June but all the additional costs is going to make it too expensive for us in our 70s! Really wanting a break after 12 months of restrictions, this is mentally disastrous!!!”
Shapps defended the measures during his TV appearances this morning, explaining that lateral flow tests were not rigorous enough to rely upon.
“The PCR test is often called the gold standard test – it’s the one which will be able to be processed further to look at things like variants of concern. And so it’s important that we proceed with the utmost caution, which is why we’ve got testing at all,” he told BBC Breakfast.
However, he acknowledged that steps needed to be taken to make the tests for travel cheaper.
“I am concerned about the cost of these [tests], they’re provided by private providers, and we’d like to see that cost driven down, and I’m actually going to work between now and the 17th of May, which is the earliest possible date for international travel to resume, with the private sector, with providers to see whether this can’t be driven down quite a lot further,” Shapps explained.
“I think they are too expensive, and it may be that there need to be more entrants in the market. And we’ll be taking a very close look at that.”
The minister shared that one option could be taking a pre-departure lateral flow test.
“We’re actually going to look at the sort of bring-your-own one, so you could take a lateral flow test that everybody is now entitled to… that’s another chunk of the costs,” he said.
“So, in terms of reducing costs that could potentially even remove the costs from the pre-departure test, and then when people come home we will be driving down the cost to get to cheaper testing and indeed looking at the type of test that people need to get.”
However, some experts have warned against relying on lateral flow tests which can show false positives. British healthcare company Salutaris People, which provides private COVID-19 testing, cautioned such a move could trigger a third wave of infections.
Ben Paglia, MD of Akea Life, the clinical testing partners to Salutaris People, said: “The idea of using a lateral flow test as a ‘cheaper’ alternative to PCR testing and to make this more affordable to airline passengers is frankly astonishing.
“After we have made such incredible progress with the vaccination programme rollout – and the incredible hardships and sacrifices many people have had to make in lockdown – why would the Government drop its guard now and risk a potential third outbreak and a rise in infections?
“All it takes is for one person to have a false test result using a lateral flow kit and an entire plane of several hundred people could be at risk.
“The Government’s suggestion to allow airline passengers to also potentially administer their own lateral flow tests would also set a very dangerous precedent and hinder the accuracy of results. The number of false negatives can increase significantly simply due to the lack of understanding people will have in testing themselves.
“This in itself can also lead to the ‘false reassurance’ that a person is ‘negative’ when in fact they may be positive or asymptomatic but carrying the virus. We know that when the tests are administered by trained healthcare professionals, the results accuracy will increase significantly. This is why the tests are indicated for healthcare professional use only.”
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