Tour operators insist lateral flow tests should be deemed safe enough for travel if the government allows them for schools.
Lateral flow tests are available to UK residents free of charge up to twice a week and are used for mass testing in schools and workplaces – but critics say they are less efficient than PCR tests, which are more expensive as they require lab analysis.
Caribtours chief executive Paul Cleary said he would “endorse” lateral flow tests in place of the current PCR requirement, which costs from £20 to more than £200.
“I don’t see why [lateral flow] can’t be used for travellers,” he said. “We should absolutely be trying it.”
Noting that Caribtours’ customers are from an older demographic, he said: “Most of my clients will be double-vaccinated by the end of this month. Their kids are all going to school taking these tests twice, and it’s good enough for their schools.
“You don’t have to be informed about the travel industry to not question why, if it’s good enough for our schools, and it’s good enough for our kids, it isn’t good enough for travel.”
Jet2holidays chief executive Steve Heapy agreed. He said: “They’re either good enough or they’re not. It’s not like the results are valid if you’re a school child but not if you’re a holidaymaker. It either works or it doesn’t. So I don’t see what their differentiation is.”
The PC Agency’s Paul Charles pointed out that 16 million people have had both doses of the vaccine in the UK so far, which “covers all of the most vulnerable”.
“So the risk is much, much lower,” he said, noting that other destinations were “opening up” with less strict testing procedures.
He said lateral flow tests were the cause of “much government arguments”, with “the ‘health hawks’ saying they don’t want you to take them” but that the transport secretary “did suggest you could ‘bring your own bottle’, as he put it, [that] you could effectively bring your own NHS lateral flow test with you in a suitcase, take them whilst you’re abroad, and that would be good enough from a green country.”
Charles cautioned: “They seem to be rowing back on that.” But he said: “They’re good enough to open schools. Therefore, they should be good enough to open overseas travel.”
He said a ‘loophole’ included being able to take a weekend break in Portugal having taken a negative lateral flow test in the UK and not have to take another before boarding your return flight because it still stands within 72 hours.
“That sums it up, that it’s good enough,” he added.