Agents are continuing to advise customers to book PCR tests when they return from holiday despite government plans to relax the requirement to a lateral flow test in time for half-term.
Aito Specialist Agents chair Gemma Antrobus believes the cost of a PCR test was preferable to the “faff” of the requirements rumoured to be needed for a lateral flow alternative for some clients.
The government has said it intends to relax the requirements on testing, making cheaper lateral flow tests acceptable in addition to PCR tests, which have been required since international travel reopened since Covid. The date for this change has not yet been confirmed, although transport secretary Grants Shapps has indicated he hopes to make the change “by half term”. On Friday, he said an announcement would be made “in the coming days”.
Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Antrobus, owner of Haselmere Travel, said: “We’re advising PCR all the way because, at the moment, for many of our clients who have private school holidays, their half term starts this Friday, not next Friday.
“We’re [less than] a week away from half term, there’s no point in waiting.”
She said most clients “like to know that they’re there” before they depart on holiday, adding: “They don’t want something arriving while on the other side of the world” so she has been advising PCR tests in the meantime.
Antrobus said: “If we think about what the government has said, about doing a photo or a video, that’s more faff. Unless they slash these lateral flow test costs to about £10, is it really worth it?
“It’s going to be a client’s choice which way they decide to go. But based on a lateral flow test requiring a video or a photo, half of my clients who are elderly would not have a clue. They could probably just about get their head around doing a test or going to a clinic and having a test – but not videoing themselves. So it’s ridiculous.”
Antrobus said that she expects changes to come in for that last week of October half term, which varies across local authorities, adding: “It will be very last-minute and people will be already ready to travel and will have already purchased their PCR tests, so I don’t really see this as being a big thing anymore. We’re going PCR every time.”
She said the biggest obstacle to booking up to now had been the pre-departure test to get back into the UK, rather than the day two test anyway. This requirement was removed on October 4 for fully-vaccinated Brits.
Derek Jones, chief executive of Kuoni, agreed: “Right now, the only sensible advice we can give while we’re waiting for the government to clarify the position is to tell customers to book a PCR test, and then that PCR test will trump a lateral flow test.”
Brian Young, G Adventures’ managing director for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said the added complication of taking videos and photos of test results “creates anxiety for a consumer when they’re trying to plan to go away on holiday”.
He said: “What we need is clarity, so that at least the customer knows very clearly exactly what needs to be done.”
Young said customers wanting to book for half term were in “limbo”, adding that the government “have been talking about this for a while”. He asked: “Why can’t they just put a very clear timeline on it? It’s PCR tests or its lateral flow, and ‘this is what you need to do once you’ve done it’. I don’t understand why it takes so much time.”