MP says passengers being ‘ripped off’ with PCR tests

The chair of the Transport Select Committee has hit out at the high cost of PCR testing for international travellers, calling them an “unnecessary rip-off”.

Conservative MP Huw Merriman urged the government to allow cheaper lateral flow tests to be used for travel instead.

He tweeted: “Long suspected that expensive PCR tests for travel are an unnecessary rip-off. Shocking new Test and Trace NHS data backs this up.”

The government has long said that PCR tests are essential for international arrivals because they allow for genome-sequencing to identify potential variants of concern being imported into the UK.

But Merriman said only 5% of all the PCR tests from arriving passengers that came back positive in the three-week period from July 1 were genome-sequenced.

He said that means that, of the estimated 500,000 PCR tests taken over that three-week period, 6,977 were positive but only 354 were sequenced.

He pointed out: “Passengers spent £35 million on PCR tests in that three-week period which equates to about £100,000 per sequenced test.”

Merriman said cheaper, quicker lateral flow tests should be used instead of PCRs for international arrivals to the UK, and believes those who test positive would then take a more expensive PCR test which would undergo sequencing.

“This would be cheaper for passengers and would also lead to more sequencing,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Passengers are being ripped off with expensive PCR tests. We are told this is justified to sequence for variants but only 5% of tests are. This barrier to affordable travel needs to stop now.”

Others highlighted the onerous cost of PCR tests as they commented on the latest traffic light update from the government.

Virginia Messina, WTTC senior vice-president and acting chief executive, and Joss Croft, chief executive of UKinbound, were among those who said the requirement for expensive PCR tests will still deter many from travelling.

The only mention of testing in the announcement late on Wednesday evening was advice for those coming from Spain to use a PCR test as their pre-departure test “wherever possible, as a precaution against the increased prevalence of the virus and variants in the country”.

Testing firm Project Screen by Prenetics said a family of four travelling to Spain could now face paying a total of £1,328 for tests – an increase of 33% – if they follow the government advice to take a PCR test before flying back.

Avi Lasarow, EMEA chief executive of Project Screen by Prenetics, said removing VAT from the PCR tests would bring down the average PCR test from £83 to £69.

Chris Rolland, chief executive of AllClear Travel Insurance, said the cost and frequency of the required testing regime had not been addressed in the latest update.

He said a survey of 2,000 adults by AllClear showed that 69% had permanently altered the way they now think about holidays – with safety considerations rated more important than holiday cost and destination choice.

Denis Kinane, co-founder and chief medical officer of testing firm Cignpost ExpressTest, said a “weakness” in the current arrangements is the fact that vaccinated travellers can forgo quarantine but do not get tested for up to two days after they arrive in the UK.

This can mean they may not receive results up to six days after their return, during which time they could spread Covid-19.

He suggested a test on arrival would be able to identify infections and spot potential new variants much sooner.

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