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PCR tests for travellers required to monitor variants

The government’s insistence on costly PCR Covid-19 tests for international arrivals over cheaper, rapid tests is due to the need for laboratory analysis of results to monitor dangerous variants.

The Global Travel Taskforce report published today rules out the use of free NHS tests for travellers and the traffic-light system it proposes will require even those arriving from a ‘green’ low-risk destination to pay for at least one PCR test.

However, the report does hold out hope that testing requirements could be relaxed.

It explains: “The UK is a global leader in genome sequencing, which in positive [Covid-19] cases allows the identification of ‘variants of concern’.

“Mutation-specific PCR testing prior to genome sequencing allows ‘variants of concern’ to be detected more quickly.”

The report warns “the risks posed by variants of concern remain significant” and concludes “this is recognised in this framework” through “the continued use of robust testing measures”.

It makes clear: “NHS tests at no cost for those with symptoms will not be permitted for use in international travel.”

All tests will have to be paid for by travellers when the scheme comes into operation from the earliest start day of May 17.

Travellers to green countries will face paying for one PCR test on return and one rapid, pre-departure test at a combined cost of about £180.

Those visiting ‘amber’ countries will face 10 days’ self-isolation on return and pay for two PCR tests and at least one rapid test at a combined cost of about £300, or more if they choose to pay for an additional test on day five to leave self-isolation early.

These costs will be in addition to the costs of meeting destination test requirements.

However, the report states: “The UK government recognises the cost of these tests can be high.

“We will work with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening to see how we can reduce the cost . . . while ensuring travel is as safe as possible.

“This could include cheaper tests being used when holidaymakers return home, as well as whether the government would be able to provide pre-departure tests.”

A review which allowed rapid tests on arrival to replace PCR tests together with provision of free pre-departure tests could cut the costs to £60 per person for travel to green countries and £180 to amber destinations.

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