Confirmed: The end of PCR tests for UK travel delayed

Oct 8, 2021

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with the latest information.

The excitement many Brits felt upon hearing the news that the U.K. would soon be simplifying its travel protocols has been tempered by some bad news: The switch to less expensive lateral flow tests from PCR tests has been delayed until later this month.

This week’s slashing of the do not travel red list also included an unwelcome update confirming that for now, PCR tests will still be required for your Day 2 test on your return to the United Kingdom.

The reason is not that there are new concerns over rising infections or the emergence of a new variant, but simply because there is a shortage of commercial testing kits. The private testing companies don’t have enough lateral flow tests stockpiled to meet the expected demand. The Evening Standard reports that Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told the Transport Select Committee last month that the delay in implementing the new testing rules could take several weeks.

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“We go from a situation where they are providing a low number of thousands [of tests], to probably millions of tests very quickly and need a few weeks to scale up on it,” Shapps said last month.

That news is no doubt frustrating for Brits who were enthused about planning holidays now that the UK’s onerous travel rules were being relaxed. We told you recently that the traffic light system was being replaced with a simpler process in which there is a single “do not travel” red list. That went into effect from 4 October.

But just as significant was that the U.K.’s strict COVID-19 test requirements were being changed for fully vaccinated travellers entering or returning to England. The Day 2 PCR test requirement was being scrapped in favor of the cheaper lateral flow/antigen test. This is significant because the cost of tests to return to the United Kingdom is at least £76 per traveller for the combination PCR/lateral flow tests. With just one lateral flow test required, the cost would drop to as low as £33 per person. That’s a big saving.

This week’s update confirming the delay also advised that when tests do switch to antigen/lateral flow tests later this month, travellers must upload a photo of their results to verify the test, which presumably will still need to be issued by a private testing provider. This is how some providers like Qured process lateral flow/antigen tests.

For months now, the private testing system has come under heavy criticism because some feel it has been more to boost the bottom line of the companies providing the tests, than it has been to benefit public safety. Because free NHS tests have been banned for travel purposes, testing costs have made a family holiday more expensive for many. We wrote about the high cost of travel tests in more detail before.

Now, this delay in switching to the simpler testing method means families may have to stretch their budget once more to go on holiday or make the difficult decision to put their trip on hold. While using free NHS tests for travel could be a sensible temporary measure while private providers scale up their lateral flow capabilities, this has not been suggested by the Transport Secretary.

The good news is you no longer need a pre-departure test to enter the United Kingdom.

Featured image by Leon Neal/Getty Images

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