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Abta urges devolved governments to also drop PCR testing

Abta is calling on the devolved nations to step into line and also drop the need for expensive PCR tests for fully vaccinated travellers.

The travel association was among the organisations to respond to last night’s confirmation from government that lateral flow testing will be allowed as a day two test from October 24.

The change comes in time for the school half-term in England with tests available to book from October 22.

Abta public affairs director Luke Petherbridge said: “It is welcome that PCR tests will be replaced by lateral flows for fully vaccinated travellers from 24 October – in time for those returning from school half-term holidays in England.

“Costly tests have been a huge barrier to people travelling so we hope this will help make overseas holidays much more accessible.

“Brits are desperate to catch up on their much loved and much missed foreign trips – with 46% of people looking to take a winter holiday.

“With the relaxed travel restrictions and majority of destinations open for travel, now is the best in a long time to book a overseas holiday.

“We also encourage the governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to adopt the same approach.”

Gary Lewis, chief executive of the 1,200-member Travel Network Group, said: “Travel businesses across the country will be hoping that this move encourages all-important bookings for the October half-term break and for winter destinations.

“Making travel more accessible and less complicated can only be a good thing, but we need more information about the list of government approved providers and the cost of the packages they provide, to make sure the changes bring real benefits to travellers.

“We hope that these changes boost consumer confidence in international travel and we start to see an increase in trips being made. Many businesses have been severely impacted by nearly 18 months of government restrictions and are struggling to balance cash flow with wage bills, whilst the numbers of people travelling are still below pre-2020 levels.

“Despite future bookings being a beacon of hope for the industry, travel businesses need to benefit from commission made on people taking trips right now, so we hope this move makes winter travel easier and more accessible for travellers.”

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “The news is of course good news for those planning to travel in October half term, particularly families. On average, a family of four could now save around £100 on tests alone which shows things are moving in the right direction.

“As for the bigger picture, we now need to aim for frictionless travel and move towards no testing in the future for those who are fully vaccinated. With the success of the vaccine rollout in the UK, international travel is improving but it remains complex with navigating the different destination rules in each country.

“The need to book with an expert agent whether for business or leisure is key, as these knowledgeable and trusted agents can inspire, advise and provide reassurance for this new era of travel every step of the way. Now is the time for agents to harness these changes and hit the ground running.

She added: “The changes in travel rules has encouraged people to book, and trading-wise we have had the best three weeks since the start of the pandemic and are consistently trading at around 90% of 2019 levels. The mix of travel type is starting to grow but sales are still dominated by short haul ‘familiar’ destinations like the Canaries.

“Long-haul  will be slower to recover despite the red list review and agents are reporting prices are high in general. Confidence is definitely increasing all the time and every positive change announced reinforces this and we are seeing a much-needed boost in the sales figures.”

Steve Heapy, chief executive of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, said: “We are approaching an extremely busy half-term, autumn and winter, so this is very welcome news for the many customers and families who are due to travel.

“Replacing day two PCR tests with lateral flow tests is the right thing to do as it is cheaper, fairer and less complex.

“We have experienced enormous demand in recent weeks and this welcome step will strengthen that demand even further. After facing lockdowns and harsh travel restrictions for so long, customers are jumping at the chance to book and travel on their well-deserved holidays once again.”

WTTC chief executive Julia Simpson said: “Finally, the government has listened and ditched costly PCRs for a cheaper antigen test. This will be a boost for UK travel & tourism, a sector that brought more than £237 billion to our economy in 2019.”

Despite the generally positive reaction, some agents said the timing of the announcement and the change would still cause short-term issues for the trade and customers.

Designer Travel owner Amanda Matthews said on Twitter: “Here we go again ⁦‪@grantshapps‬⁩ an announcement with more questions than answers and a totally impractical date of launch when most families will be overseas already and stressing about ordering day 2 lateral flow tests whilst on holiday. Shouldn’t even need tests if fully jabbed.”

Nick Markham, co-founder of testing provider Cignpost Diagnostics, said: “We recognise that there was a case to be made for the abandonment of gold standard PCR testing on the grounds of cost and complexity.

“Now that the government has decided to switch from PCR to lateral flow, it is our role to ensure that these tests are carried out in the most robust and secure way possible.

“The most important thing is to ensure that every positive lateral flow result is captured, so that they can be sequenced to any new variants, using a follow up PCR test.

“Now that the government has moved to validate results through a photo identification process, we must ensure that these are not open to fraudulent submissions and that people travelling from abroad take their test and report their result if positive or negative.“

Cignpost’s latest data shows four in every 1,000 fully-vaccinated people are testing positive after they arrive in the UK, despite everyone currently needing to record a negative lateral flow test before arrival.

“With no pre-departure tests now required, the number of positive cases among arrivals is set to rise,” Markham warned.

“That’s why it is essential that these tests are undertaken correctly, so individuals who are positive are tracked and asked to isolate. Only this will help to mitigate spread and prevent new variants coming into the country.”

Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “These changes to travel testing should simplify the system and reduce costs a little for travellers in England, but it’s vital that the government now ensures there is sufficient capacity to deal with a surge in demand for lateral flow tests – especially as it has said tests should not be booked until the day most people heading away for half term will go to the airport.

“It must also ensure there is no repeat of the problems with rogue providers charging extortionate prices or failing to provide tests on time that have plagued the private PCR testing market.

“There is already a lot of confusion among travellers about what these changes mean for them.

“Crucially, you cannot use NHS lateral flow tests but must book through a private provider.

“Travellers should not book their tests yet. While some private test providers already sell lateral flow tests for travel, these are not the right ones for arrival back in England under the government’s new scheme. The government has said tests will be bookable from October 22.”

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