PCR tests to enter Britain set to be ditched soon

Scrapping of rule will save average family £200 per trip

FILE PHOTO: People queue to enter terminal 2, as tighter rules for international travellers start, at Heathrow Airport, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, London, Britain, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
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The UK government is set to scrap the rule that states travellers need a PCR test to enter Britain.

Cheaper lateral flow tests are expected to be accepted instead.

Britain’s transport secretary offered hope to millions of Britons planning to travel abroad this winter and those wishing to head to the UK by promising an announcement on changes to the PCR test rule “in the coming days”.

Grant Shapps suggested less expensive lateral flow tests could replace PCRs in time for half-term later this month, saving the average family about £200 per trip.

It comes after the UK government announced major changes to the red list on Thursday, slashing the number of countries they discourage travel to down to seven.

Mr Shapps said the decision was a major development for the travel industry, which has long called on ministers to ease restrictions to help airlines return to a somewhat normal schedule.

Speaking on Sky News on Friday, Mr Shapps said the government would be making another announcement soon, this time on a change to PCR test rules.

And he confirmed that a photo of a lateral flow test cassette would be required for people to obtain their results, quashing reports that suggested a video of the test being taken would be needed.

“We want to get this done for half-term for people,” he said.

“I know my colleagues over at Health [Department] and, to a certain extent, the Home Office - they’re the people who will have to implement this change – are working extremely hard on getting this done and so we anticipate having it ready for the half-term.

“And what a difference it will make for people rather than do things like send off the test and wait for the result. As people will be familiar with the lateral flow, you read it on the cassette there and then it shows your result within a few minutes and much, much easier, much less expensive as well.”

In Britain, the average price tag attached to a PCR test is £75, while lateral flow tests sell for as little as £25.

The latter does not require postage of a swab, and people are only required to send a photo of their negative result to the manufacturer for verification.

Half-term, which typically runs from Friday, October 22, to Monday, November 1, was a popular time for Britons with schoolchildren to head abroad. Covid-19 has changed that.

Mr Shapps told BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme the change could not be implemented until ministers are sure there will be enough lateral flow tests on the market to meet demand.

“The important part of this is making sure that the industry itself is able to provide the tests,” he said.

“It’s quite a big switch for them, from supplying hundreds of thousands of PCR tests to providing those lateral flow tests instead.”

He said the government had kept the day-two PCR test rule, despite pressure from travel bosses to drop it, because initially lateral flow test were not as effective in detecting Covid-19.

But the transport secretary said “the sensitivity and specificity has improved on those tests” and he is confident they will be a suitable replacement for the more expensive PCR tests.

Recent changes to travel rules, including the reduction of nations on the red list, have boosted winter destinations such as Mexico, South Africa and Brazil.

They are among 47 countries that will be removed from the no-go list from 4am on Monday.

Travellers arriving from those destinations will no longer need to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 per person.

Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela remain on the red list.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own travel rules but have recently mirrored announcements made in Westminster.

Mr Schapps also said the reopening of travel routes between the UK and the US would be a much-welcome boost for the industry.

He said no specific date in November has been set for America to fully lift restrictions for visitors from Britain. He said he had spoken about the topic with the US ambassador in recent days and said officials across the pond are “still working through the technicalities of that”.

Updated: November 22, 2021, 9:04 AM