Government ‘unlikely’ to drop PCR test requirement for travel restart

The government shows little sign of dropping requirements for costly PCR tests on travellers returning from ‘green’ countries under the traffic light system when travel restarts, but industry leaders will keep up the pressure.

Health secretary Matt Hancock highlighted the success of PCR testing in picking up ‘variants of concern’ on Monday, telling MPS: “Our border testing system means we get a survey from around the world. We can see where the new variants are.”

An industry source close to the taskforce said: “There is some movement on cost [but] they’ve not indicated they’ll drop PCR tests. So as far as the industry is concerned that is still on the table and if lateral flow tests are not brought in for May 17 there is a review at the end of June.”

More: India added to UK’s ‘red’ list for travel

Firm cuts PCR test cost to £60

British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle forecast the cost of tests would come down, saying: “Lateral flow tests are affordable and the UK government is looking at making those available.” BA will also make a PCR test available for £60.

However, aviation minister Robert Courts told the Transport Select Committee of MPs last week: “PCR tests help keep tabs on variants. We’re not there at the moment [with rapid tests].”

The industry source warned digitisation of test certificates also “needs pulling together with haste”, saying: “Test certificates are all paper-based apart from those in airline trials. Digitisation is what we need now.”

A second industry source said the government “talked about the summer for certificates, but some of the data is on paper, some digital, some with GPs, and the data protection is a nightmare. There are legions of problems.”

Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer expects no change in the test system ahead of a restart, but suggested the type of tests could be reviewed at the first ‘checkpoint’. He told Travel Weekly: “The government has set out what is going to be the initial requirement certainly until it’s reviewed on June 28.”

However, Tanzer suggested: “Even with PCR tests at the green level, people will want to get away this summer if we can work on the cost.”

Media reports suggested the Treasury is considering exempting PCR tests from VAT, which would cut costs by 20%.

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