Health secretary hints PCR tests may be scrapped

The health secretary Sajid Javid has hinted that cheaper lateral flow tests will replace the current expensive PCR regime in a shake-up of international travel rules.

And the prime minister has said news about simplifying the traffic light system and making testing less onerous will come “shortly”.

The government’s Global Travel Taskforce is due to reveal the outcome of its latest review on October 1.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday (September 14), Sajid Javid said more details will be revealed before October 1 by transport secretary Grant Shapps.

His comments came in response to a question from Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of transport select committee.

Merriman asked: “Will he entertain the idea of moving to lateral flow tests which are cheaper and then only a small proportion of positive cases would then need to take up a PCR test?”

The health secretary replied: “I don’t want to pre-empt the statement by the transport secretary but I believe that when he makes that statement, he [Mr Merriman] will be pleased.”

Another Conservative MP, Sir Graham Brady, also raised the issue of testing for travellers, asking: “The secretary of state will know there is evidence now that people returning from green list and amber list countries over the summer actually had a lower level of Covid than people who stayed here during the summer.

“Does he accept that makes a very powerful case for getting rid of the day-two PCR test for people returning from those countries?”

Javid replied: “(He’s) right to raise this and it’s the reason why we have constantly kept our travel rules relating to Covid under review and in my statement earlier he may have heard I referred to a set of changes that we are looking to make very soon and the (transport secretary) will be bringing forward those changes to the House as soon as he possibly can.”

Javid praised the UK’s “strong defences at the border”, which he said have allowed the country to carefully reopen to overseas travel.

He also commented that he is looking into what “further action” he can take following the Competition and Market Authority’s investigation into “exploitative” private testing for travel.

Shortly afterwards, the prime minister said during a press briefing that news about simplifying travel rules and making testing less onerous was coming shortly.

Boris Johnson said: “I appreciate that people are very frustrated about the travel rules but it’s vital that we do whatever we can to stop the virus being reimported and particularly to control new variants when they’re at risk of coming in. That’s why we have the rules.

“I know travellers have been frustrated this summer…but it’s reasonable to ask people to do that to help protect the population.

“We will be saying a lot more shortly about traffic lights system, about simplifying it, and about what we can do about the burdens of testing less onerous for those who are coming back into the country. That will be coming shortly.”

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