The cost of Covid-19 tests could be reduced by the time outbound travel restarts, but higher-priced PCR tests are likely to remain in place at the outset.
Industry criticism of the government’s Global Travel Taskforce report focused on the high price of PCR tests required even of arrivals from countries listed ‘green’ under the proposed traffic light system.
PCR tests could cost a family of four returning from a green list country about £600. Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told Travel Weekly: “It will make travel too expensive, but it’s something the government can easily change by doing what we do with schools and giving people a cheaper test before asking them to take a PCR test only if they have Covid.”
He said: “It’s overkill. The prime minister said he would make testing cheap and easy. What’s been announced is not cheap and easy.”
PCR prices vary from £60 to above £200 but average £128 according to Abta, double the price in parts of Europe where the EU has agreed the tests can be zero-rated for VAT. In the UK, VAT adds 20%. Some EU governments cap the cost.
An industry source said: “VAT is in the government’s gift and [removing it] would help.
“We also haven’t given up on [cheaper] lateral flow tests. It might be only some go on the approved list. But between now and May 17 there will be a lot of work on this.”
A second source agreed: “We want to move to rapid tests. But in the meantime, they can cut the cost of PCR tests. They could take providers off the approved list. We don’t think the government will go for capping the cost, they will pressurise providers.”
Iata called for tests to be VAT exempt and for the Competition and Markets Authority to investigate pricing.
The pressure led transport secretary Grant Shapps to acknowledge PCR tests cost too much and pledge: “The cost should be cheaper. I’ll be driving that down.
“I won’t spare companies that seem to be profiteering, including removing them from the recommended list [of test providers].”