Some passengers arriving in the UK face the prospect of an extended spell in quarantine or paying for additional Covid tests as private labs are failing to deliver results on time, Which? claims.
The consumer group raised concerns about the capacity of the UK’s travel testing system weeks before international travel is set to re-open after May 17 under the government’s traffic light initiative.
Which? warned that the travel test system, described as already struggling to handle demand when international travel is restricted, is at risk of being overwhelmed, and potentially collapsing when restrictions are lifted.
It urged the government to address problems affecting the PCR testing market covering availability of information, accreditation, pricing and accessibility of tests, as well as “poor quality” of service by some providers.
Ministers must also ensure there are effective consumer protections in place for travellers in the event of any problems with testing, ahead of reopening overseas travel.
Which? pointed to social media and review sites highlighting complaints about test result delays, with a Facebook group for people suffering problems with the system sttracting 1,500 members.
The organisation also said it had heard from travellers who did not receive their test results within ten days.
Without test results, travellers face having to pay hundreds of pounds for additional tests or stay in quarantine for longer than they need to, potentially causing problems for those who cannot work from home.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said: “The UK’s travel testing system can’t cope with demand, even when relatively small numbers of people are travelling.
“It’s clear the system could buckle under the pressure when mass international travel restarts and hundreds of thousands more people are reliant on it.
“Travellers shouldn’t have to shop around for something as crucial as a test provider – they simply need a service that is accessible, reliable, and delivered on time.
“It is critical that the government addresses issues with testing ahead of restarting international travel, and ensure that travellers are not left to the mercy of poor quality providers or unreliable services when trying to do the right thing in following government requirements to travel safely.”
Anyone arriving in the UK, unless exempt, must quarantine for a mandatory ten days and take a PCR test on day two and day eight. Tests typically cost between £160 and £200, but can cost more than £500.
Travellers must receive negative results for both tests to leave quarantine after day ten.
Under the proposed traffic light system, arrivals from ‘green’ countries must take day two tests, and those from ‘amber’ and ‘red’ countries must take day two and day eight tests, which will mean hundreds of thousands more people rely on the testing system, according to Which?