In Brief

Covid testing: the ‘great new game of holiday roulette’

On one day last week, the price of a private PCR test ranged from £23.99 to £575

“Like many people, I’ve spent a lot of this year playing the great new game of holiday roulette,” said Rachel Cooke in The Guardian. It began in January when a group of us gambled on booking a house in rural France. Our bet appeared to pay off last week when France was put back on the amber list, meaning that fully vaccinated Britons can visit the country without having to quarantine on their return. But my friends and I are now caught up in another game: negotiating our way through the confusing rules on Covid tests.

It’s a complex business, said Janet Street-Porter in The Independent. For most purposes, cheap lateral flow tests are deemed sufficient. But even fully vaccinated people have to take more expensive PCR tests two days after returning to the UK from amber and green countries (and those returning from Spain now need to have a pre-flight PCR test as well). “Is the Prime Minister’s long-term plan to make foreign holidays so unattractive that we give up, stay at home and spend our cash in UK PLC, propping up Rishi’s sagging coffers?”

The testing regime is certainly chaotic, said Charlotte Lytton in The Daily Telegraph. The Government’s website features a list of hundreds of private PCR test providers charging wildly different rates: on one day last week, the prices ranged from £23.99 to £575 for the same test.

Tales abound of people ordering home testing kits that never arrive, or of booking virtual appointments that don’t happen. Many others have been sent result certificates that are either riddled with errors or too late to stop people with Covid from spreading it, or to catch flights. Tests returned by travellers after their trips were recently pictured piling up and spilling out onto the street at drop-off points belonging to the operator Randox.

Ministers have justified their insistence on PCR tests on the basis that these more sophisticated tests involve gene sequencing that can help identify troubling new variants from abroad, said the Daily Mail. But that argument has been blown “out of the water” by the recent revelation that only 5% of the tests are actually being sent for analysis.

It’s good that the Government has partially simplified the travel system by scrapping the amber-plus list – and that it ditched the idea of a new “amber watch” category – but it now needs to go further. At the very least, PCR tests should be price-capped and made VAT-free. It would be better, though, to make lateral flow tests the norm, at least for double-jabbed travellers. Best of all would be to follow the lead of France and the other European nations that now allow “fully vaccinated arrivals to enter their country without proof of a negative test of any sort”.

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