Overseas Travel

Travel Firms Charging up to £150 for ‘Cheaper’ Lateral Flow Tests

PCR Covid tests for travel have been scrapped but holidaymakers still face extortionate bills for travel testing, with some providers asking for up to 20 times the price of lateral flow tests in Europe. The Telegraph has the story.

The Government is due to launch a new “bespoke” list of lateral flow test providers… with fully jabbed travellers able to book their swabs ready for their return next week.

However, analysis by the Telegraph of the current firms on the official list that already offer lateral flow swabs show they are charging up to 20 times the price of tests available in Europe.

The Government’s switch from the more expensive PCR tests to cheaper lateral flow swabs for returning travellers is designed to give foreign travel a boost by saving families hundreds of pounds.

But the analysis of existing providers reveals the costs range from £17.99 – offered by 001 Expert Covid Testing U.K. – to £150 by the Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent.

At least half a dozen are pitched at £100 or more, although the costs were inflated by offering a bespoke on-site testing service rather than the “click and collect at home” tests the Government has allowed.

A significant number were also priced at £50 or more, compared with all the major European destinations offering lateral flow tests at €30 or less (£25.32). Even the cheapest failed to disclose in their headline price advertised on Gov.uk that packaging and posting will add £10 to the cost.

From Monday, any fully jabbed holidaymaker will be able to use lateral flow tests on their return to the U.K. If they test positive, they can get a free PCR test on the NHS to check their result.

PCR tests have averaged around £70, with the most expensive at £300. It is understood the “bespoke” list for lateral flow tests will include 25 firms specifically authorised to provide them.

Worth reading in full.

40% Of Workers in Agency Responsible for Screening U.S. Air Travellers Unvaccinated despite Looming Mandate Deadline

It’s not just the U.S. army that appears to be struggling to persuade troops to get fully vaccinated before vaccine mandates get them ordered out. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is responsible for screening air travellers, says 40% of its workers have yet to be inoculated. The Independent has the story.

“We have about 60% of our workforce has been vaccinated, that that number needs to go quite a bit higher over the next few weeks,” TSA Administrator David Pekoske said on Wednesday while speaking to CNN.

Because vaccines are only considered effective two weeks after a person receives their final dose, the deadline for being fully vaccinated with Moderna’s mRNA vaccine – which requires a four-week interval between shots – by Mr. Biden’s November 22nd deadline has already passed, and a similar deadline for use of Pfizer’s vaccine is fast approaching on October 18th. …

Not having enough workers available to screen airline passengers could severely hobble U.S. air travel, especially since the November 22nd final deadline would put unvaccinated screeners out of work just days before Thanksgiving, usually the busiest travel day of the year in the U.S.

“We are building contingency plans, for if we do have some staffing shortages as a result of this, but I hope to avoid that,” Pekoske said.

Worth reading in full.

PCR Tests for Travel Will Be Scrapped in Time for Half-Term Holidays

PCR Covid tests for travel will be scrapped from October 22nd, despite previous reports suggesting they could stay in place at least until the back end of the half-term week. The Telegraph has the story.

Fully vaccinated holidaymakers will instead be allowed to book and use cheaper lateral flow tests when they return to Britain from half-term breaks.

This should reduce the costs from an average of around £60 to £70 for a PCR test to between £20 and £35 for a lateral flow test from an approved provider on the Government’s official website.

As previously with PCR tests, double-vaccinated travellers will be expected to book lateral flow tests in advance, register them on their passenger locator forms and then take them on or before day two of their return to the U.K.

The Department of Health and Social Care has accepted that the test can be done by holidaymakers at home, but the result will have to be verified with the test firm by providing a photograph of the kit with its registration number. [Not by providing a video recording of the testing process, as ministers have at one time considered.] …

Only unvaccinated travellers now have to take a pre-departure test and then quarantine for 10 days on their return and pay for PCR tests on days two and eight of their return. The pre-departure test for double jabbed travellers was ditched on October 4th.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: Isabel Oakeshott asks why travellers are being forced to pay for lateral flow tests “when we all have boxes of the damn things at home”?

Just Seven Countries Left on Government’s ‘Red List’

47 countries have been removed from the Government’s ‘Red List’ in what has been described as one of the biggest reopenings of overseas travel since the pandemic began. The Telegraph has the story.

Only seven countries will remain on the list which requires travellers to be quarantined in a hotel on their return to the U.K. at a cost of £2,285 per person.

Ministers also abandoned plans to force holidaymakers to video themselves taking tests after a backlash from the travel industry, which argued that it would be costly and a logistical nightmare for families.

The Government is confident that the more expensive PCR tests will be scrapped in time for October half term, with families allowed to use cheaper lateral flow tests when they return to the U.K.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the Red List, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.”

Winter sun destinations including Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Seychelles, Cape Verde, Costa Rica, Brazil and Bali in Indonesia will be removed from the Red List at 4am on Monday, as will popular safari resorts in Tanzania, Botswana and Namibia.

The seven countries remaining on the Red List are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Nine of the 47 countries, including Argentina and Uruguay, remain closed to Britons unless they have exceptional reasons to travel to them. There are also growing fears the U.S. will maintain its ban on British holidaymakers until Thanksgiving at the end of November.

Mr. Shapps succeeded in killing off Department of Health proposals for fully jabbed travellers to video themselves taking lateral flow tests while supervised by a health adviser from a private firm.

Holidaymakers will now only be required to send a picture of their test kit result, possibly with ID such as a passport.

Worth reading in full.

Holidaymakers Could Be Forced to Film Themselves Taking LFTs

Concerned that British holidaymakers arriving back in the country may lie when submitting lateral flow test results, ministers are planning on requiring testing to be done during video calls with ‘health advisers’. The Mail has the story.

The Government is planning to replace the requirement for double-vaccinated travellers to take a PCR test on their return to Britain with a much cheaper lateral flow swab.

But the Health Secretary is said to be concerned that those taking the tests could lie about the results.

He is proposing travellers do their lateral flow test on video calls supervised by a health adviser from a private firm, the Times reported.

This is similar to the way some pre-departure tests which were scrapped last weekend were conducted.

No date has been set for the change but there is speculation among travel industry leaders that it will be around October 25th, the start of half term for many families. …

Airlines and tour operators have been hit hard during the pandemic, and have accused the Government of being too slow to relax and simplify the rules for international travel.

Worth reading in full.

New Overseas Travel System Comes into Force This Week

The ‘traffic light’ system for overseas travel has been replaced by a two-tiered system containing the (significantly reduced) ‘Red List’ and, in replacement of the ‘Green’ and ‘Amber’ categories, a ‘rest of the world’ list.

The change will only benefit those who have been fully vaccinated, with pre-departure tests no longer required for returning vaccinated travellers from former Amber countries (although they’ll still have to take a day two PCR test until the end of the month). Those who haven’t been double jabbed, by contrast, will still need to take pre-departure tests before returning to the U.K., whether a country is on the ‘Red List’ or not, PCR tests on day two and day eight once back in England, and self-isolate for 10 days. The Guardian has the story.

From 4am on October 4th, there will no longer be a requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a test in the three days before their return from a non-Red List country.

Also, from the end of October, they will no longer be required to take a PCR test on day two of their arrival in England or Scotland – instead they will need to take a lateral flow test. If the lateral flow test is positive, they will need to isolate and take a confirmatory PCR test at no additional cost.

For those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, there are currently no changes to the testing or quarantine requirements. This means if they arrive in the U.K. from any non-Red List country, they will still need to take a pre-departure test, a PCR test on day two and day eight, and quarantine at home for 10 days. If they are arriving in England, they still have the option to use the test-to-release scheme on day five.

Requirements for arrivals in the U.K. from Red List countries remain the same: a pre-departure test and the pre-booking of a mandatory 11-night quarantine hotel package, which will include two PCR tests, taken on day two and day eight, whatever your vaccination status.

All travellers, regardless of their vaccination status and the country they are travelling from, will also still need to complete a passenger locator form any time in the 48 hours before they arrive in the U.K.

The aim of the changes, according to the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, is to simplify rules and decrease the burden on people travelling. The new regime is expected to be fully in place in time for people returning from October half-term holidays in England.

The new rules announced apply to England. The devolved administrations are in charge of their own travel rules, but they have typically been mirroring Westminster’s approach.

Worth reading in full.

More than 40 Countries Could Be Removed from ‘Red List’ This Week

The Prime Minister is reportedly planning to remove up to 45 countries from the ‘Red List’ – including Mexico, Thailand and Brazil – this week, in time for the October half term. This move comes as the Government finally says it doesn’t want its overseas travel policy to be “unnecessarily restricted”. The Sunday Telegraph has the story.

The Telegraph understands that the 54 countries on the Government’s Red List will be slashed to as few as nine this week – with South Africa, Brazil and Mexico all expected to be opened up to quarantine-free travel in time for the October half-term break.

Cape Verde and Indonesia are also due to be struck off the Red List – which requires travellers to quarantine in designated hotels. 

Thailand could also become a quarantine-free destination, but was said to be a “more marginal call”.

The changes, which will allow fully vaccinated travellers to visit each of the countries without having to self-isolate on their return, are expected to be announced on Thursday following a review of the current list.

The move would lead to a spike in bookings by business travellers and holidaymakers, as it significantly opens up the number of destinations offering winter sun.

The planned easing of restrictions marks a dramatic shift in the Government’s approach to foreign travel following months of protests by industry bodies and Conservative backbenchers over the restrictions. 

In a particularly ferocious attack, former Prime Minister Theresa May warned in the summer that Britain was “falling behind the rest of Europe in our decisions to open up”.

Covid hospitalisation rates have confounded modelling which suggested that daily admissions could number 7,000 this month, when in fact they appear to have plateaued at 600.

The move comes as Mr. Johnson prepares to reboot the Conservatives’ domestic agenda in the wake of the devastating impact of Covid and the Government’s restrictions. …

A Whitehall source said: “We are expecting sharp reductions in the Red List. It could be as few as nine countries left on the list.”

The source said that ministers still wanted to keep restrictions in place to guard against Covid variants, but that the Government wanted to avoid a travel policy that “is unnecessarily restricted”.  

“Targeted quarantine will remain, but in fewer places,” the source said. A second source confirmed that the red list was due to be cut back “substantially”.

Worth reading in full.

‘Traffic Light’ System Is Gone, but PCR Tests Will Remain for Now

Brits – vaccinated or otherwise – returning from their holidays abroad will still be forced to fork out for expensive PCR tests at least until the end of October, the Department for Transport has announced, despite the scrapping of the ‘traffic light’ travel system. The Telegraph has the story.

The Department for Transport warned that expensive PCR tests will still be required for fully jabbed travellers returning from holiday until the end of next month, and may not be removed before the back end of the half-term week, which starts on October 25th.

Even if the Government scraps them in time, fully vaccinated travellers will still face lateral flow or rapid antigen tests, which the Telegraph found on Friday being sold by Government-approved private providers for as much as £150.

Airline and airport chiefs said the “unnecessary” continued testing of jabbed holidaymakers and business travellers made travel less affordable and put the U.K. at a disadvantage to Europe.

It came as the Government removed the traffic light system by merging its Green and Amber Lists of countries, which means unvaccinated travellers will have to quarantine on return from any foreign country. Eight ‘winter sun’ countries including Egypt, Kenya and Turkey will come off the red list.

Johan Lundgren, the Chief Executive of easyJet, said: “Since July 1st, there has been no testing at all for vaccinated travellers within the rest of Europe, and this is why the U.K. will continue to fall further behind the rest of Europe if this remains.”

John Holland-Kaye, the Chief Executive of Heathrow Airport, said: “The decision to require fully vaccinated passengers to take more costly private lateral flow tests is an unnecessary barrier to travel, which keeps the U.K. out of step with the rest of the EU.” …

The Department for Transport told industry chiefs it could scrap PCR tests for the fully jabbed by October 23, but officially it said it aimed “to have it in place for when people return from half-term breaks”.

A Telegraph analysis of lateral flow/antigen tests on the Gov.uk website found the most expensive to be £150, offered by The Private GP Clinic in Sevenoaks, Kent, which compared with the cheapest at £14.99 offered by O Covid Clear.

Worth reading in full.

More than 20 Countries Could Be Moved from the ‘Red List’ to the ‘Green List’ This Week

A good number of countries, including Egypt, Argentina and Turkey, could be moved from the ‘Red’ to the ‘Green List’ later this week in the latest travel review. But for unvaccinated Brits, it is possible this classification could soon become obsolete given that a new travel system is being cooked up based purely on vaccination status. MailOnline has the story.

The Government is expected to announce changes to the U.K. ‘traffic light’ system this Thursday in the latest review, amid reports the regime could be scrapped altogether by next month.

Paul Charles, CEO of the PC Agency travel consultancy, told MailOnline: “With no new Variants of Concern since early May, and with the U.K. having higher levels of Delta infection than most other countries, there is no reason to keep so many countries on the Red List. 

“It can be sharply reduced in size to help Global Britain, as well as the travel sector, recover strongly. There is no scientific basis anymore on which to prevent travel and enforce hotel quarantine from a vast swathe of the existing list.”

Ministers introduced new rules for travellers into Britain this year to slow the spread of the virus and stop new variants from abroad arriving in the country and causing havoc.

People coming from Red List countries have to quarantine in state-approved hotels for 10 days at a cost of £2,285 and take three tests – one before the return and two on days two and eight after arrival.

Those who are unjabbed coming from ‘Amber List’ destinations are forced to self-isolate for 10 days at home and take three tests. However, the double-jabbed only have to take two tests.

People coming from Green List countries don’t have to quarantine and have to provide evidence of two negative Covid tests – one before returning to the U.K. and one on day two.

However, Whitehall officials are said to be developing a new system based on Covid vaccination status rather than the prevalence of the virus in other countries…

This means that Amber and Green destinations could be removed, although the Red List will remain in place.

Worth reading in full.

Nearly a Third of Arrivals between March and May Suspected of Having Broken Quarantine Rules

Close to a third of people arriving in England and Northern Ireland between the months March and May are believed to have broken quarantine rules, but the Government can’t say exactly how many cases have been proved. BBC News has the story.

More than 300,000 cases were passed to investigators between March and May, according to figures seen by the BBC.

The Government was not able to say how many of these were found to have broken the rules or could not be traced. 

The Home Office has said it aims to pay home visits to all travellers suspected of not following the rules. …

From March 17th to May 31st more than a million people arrived in England and Northern Ireland from ‘Amber List’ countries. 

Figures for this period obtained under Freedom of Information laws show a total of 301,076 cases were referred to investigators for checks on whether they were self-isolating.

During this time, the highly contagious Delta variant of coronavirus – first detected in India – was spreading rapidly through the country.

Call handlers employed by the Department of Health and Social Care were tasked with contacting arrivals to check they were obeying the self-isolation and testing rules. 

Cases where the contact ended the call, refused to co-operate, indicated they would break the quarantine or testing rules, or could not be contacted after three attempts were referred to investigators at the Border Force Criminal Justice Unit and the police. 

Officers would then attempt to visit the contact at home to check they were following the rules. 

After April 26th, the Home Office hired private contractor Mitie to carry out home visits to international travellers required to isolate, from contacts supplied by NHS Test and Trace.

“We visit over 99% of the cases referred to this service by NHS Test and Trace,” a Government spokesman said. …

Lucy Moreton, of the Immigration Services Union, said the quarantine system “very much relied on the honesty of people to do the right thing, rather than any type of meaningful enforcement”.

Worth reading in full.