Travel PCR tests here to stay ‘for forseeable future’

A health minister has reportedly insisted that PCR test for foreign travel will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

Lord Bethell indicated to test providers at a roundtable that the tests – which on average cost more than £70 – are unlikely to be scrapped in the near future despite travel industry calls for them to be axed.

Senior MPs are pushing for the PCR tests to be replaced by cheaper lateral flow tests for double vaccinated holidaymakers returning to the UK from amber and green list countres. All arrivals have to take at least one PCR test on or before day two of their return.

New evidence has revealed that as few as one in 140 holidaymakers returning from green countries this summer have tested positive for Covid-19 after arrival in the UK.

However, Lord Bethell’s intervention suggests government scientists and the Department of Health and Social Care will oppose calls for any relaxation of the current testing regime when it comes up for review, the Telegraph reported on Saturday.

The government’s taskforce on global travel committed to a “checkpoint” review of the traffic light system for international travel and testing by October 1.

One test provider at the remotely-held roundtable told the newspaper: “The general vibe was that PCR tests are here for some time to come.

“I also suspect that was the narrative as they need to encourage providers to stay in the game for the long haul as they keep changing the rules and that is expensive to keep resetting and changing.”

The meeting involving the top providers was primarily to discuss ways to tackle ‘cowboy’ testing firms ripping off holidaymakers with misleading prices, inflated costs and delayed or lost results. Health secretary Sajid Javid removed 57 firms from the list and put 82 on notice last Sunday.

Ministers have previously maintained that the tests are needed to identify and protect against Covid variants because they allow for the virus to be genome sequenced – something that is not possible with the cheaper and less accurate lateral flow tests, which cost as little as £10.

“From what I have heard, PCR tests are here to stay because they are pretty valuable for mapping the genome,” a government source told the newspaper.

It comes as new NHS data show that just 0.7 per cent of the 93,228 people tested after arrival from green list countries in the three weeks up to August 11 were positive. It was just 1.3% for arrivals from the amber list, and 2.5% from red countries.

There were zero variants found in sequenced tests of red or green list arrivals, while 0.1% of the 442,927 people from amber countries tested positive for known “standard” variants.

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