PCR Test

Government Considering Scrapping Free Covid Tests, Freeing up Billions of Pounds

Free Covid tests could be scrapped under new plans to save billions of pounds, with free tests to be given only in high-risk settings such as care homes. This would mean that a Covid passport system wherein people had to prove either that they had been vaccinated or that they had recently tested negative for the virus would place those who had chosen not to get vaccinated under further financial strain. France decided to start charging for tests straight after the introduction of vaccine passports was announced in July. The Telegraph has the story.

Discussions are under way in the Government to scale back the arrangements that allow everyone to get a lateral flow test and some people to get PCR tests without paying…

The new system could see free tests provided only in high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, as well as for people with symptoms, though details are not yet agreed.

The U.K. is an international outlier on the issue, with Germany and France moving to end universal free testing this month

Britain also carries out many more tests than other countries, 4,022 per 1,000 people at the end of last month compared to 1,268 in Spain and 885 in Germany, according to Our World in Data.

The costs are sizable, with one insider citing it as the equivalent of 1p on income tax, and there are fears taxes would have to rise were the scheme to continue.  

A Whitehall source supportive of ending mass free testing said: “It’s agreed that universal access isn’t sustainable or necessary given high vaccination levels.

“We now need to decide what the parameters should be that reasonably qualify access to free testing.” …

It is unclear where Boris Johnson is on the matter, but the Prime Minister is expected to have the ultimate say on whether and when the free mass testing system should change.

Downing Street is understood to be playing down the chances of mass free testing ending over the winter, given the ongoing Covid uncertainty. 

Worth reading in full.

Why Do British Passport Holders Have to Take a PCR Test as a Condition of Entry to the U.K. But Not Illegal Migrants?

A member of the House of Lords has written to us, pointing out an anomaly in the British Government’s testing rules for people travelling to the U.K. which he uncovered via a Parliamentary Question to a Home Office minister.

You may be interested in the written Parliamentary Question below. During Covid I have been travelling regularly to Brussels for business meetings. Despite being double vaccinated, every time I return to the U.K., even if I have only been abroad for two days, I must take a PCR test before returning as I am told that the lateral flow test is unsatisfactory.

Yet here is HMG giving illegal migrants who almost certainly are unvaccinated no PCR tests at all. Also, HMG is quoting as its source for advice Public Health England – the same people quoted by HMG as advising business people and holidaymakers that lateral flow tests are not a satisfactory safeguard.

Next week when the House returns I will put down some follow-up questions.

Best wishes,

Richard Balfe

Baroness Williams of Trafford, the Home Office, has provided the following answer to your written parliamentary question (HL2330):

Question: To ask Her Majesty’s Government what percentage of COVID-19 PCR tests on illegal immigrants to the U.K. have returned a positive result; and of these positive samples, what percentage have now been genomically sequenced. (HL2330)

Tabled on: August 18th, 2021

This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether immigrants entering the U.K. from France illegally are required to have a COVID-19 PCR test upon detection by police or immigration officers. (HL2329)

Answer: Baroness Williams of Trafford: The Home Office is following guidance published by Public Health England, Health Protection Scotland and the NHS with regards to Covid testing for migrant arrivals.

All migrants are tested on arrival with a lateral flow test, any refusing are treated as if infectious and isolated. Lateral flow testing is a fast and simple way to test people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19, but who may still be spreading the virus. Arrivals who present as symptomatic or who provide a positive lateral flow test are allocated to an approved quarantine site.

Due to the small possibility of false positives associated with lateral flow tests, any individual who receives a positive result at a residential short-term holding facility in England or an Immigration Removal Centre, will be offered a PRC test to confirm the result. Any detained individual with symptoms of COVID-19, or testing positive for COVID-19 will be placed in protective isolation for at least 10 days and Public Health England informed.

We do not hold information regarding the percentage which have been genomically sequenced as this is the responsibility of Public Health England.

Date and time of answer: September 2nd, 2021, at 15:55.

If any readers have suggestions for follow-up questions, please email us here and we will pass them on.

Firms Charging Well Over The Advertised Cost for PCR Tests

PCR test providers are charging British holidaymakers up to four times more than the official advertised price for tests. In a bid to force “cowboy” firms to bring their prices down, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has lowered the price of NHS Test and Trace tests for some travellers from £88 to £68, still costing more than £270 for a family of four. The Telegraph has more.

Companies are claiming they can provide tests for as little as £20, which pushes them to the top of the Government’s list of approved travel test providers because they are the cheapest.

But once the potential customer clicks on to the firm’s website, they find the real prices are up to four times more than they claimed.

Others were found to be offering a cheap price but it was only available at one of their sites and only if the customer visited in person. This meant that for the vast majority of those who click on to them, they will only be available at the higher price. …

The Telegraph investigation found 247 HomeTesting, using North London Laboratory, was listed by the Government at £20 for an on-site test but charged £80 when people clicked through to its website. It lowered the price to £69 after being contacted by this newspaper.

Abicare Health was listed at £20 for a self-swab at home on the Government website. But those arriving from Green List countries for a day two test would actually have to pay £75 for a home test. The firm has been contacted for comment. 

1Rapid Clinics, using Nonacus Ltd, was listed by the Government as charging £23 for a day two home test. But this price was only applicable if  the kit was collected from their site in Marylebone, London.

A test for a trip to a Green List country delivered to a prospective holidaymaker’s home would cost £84. An on-site test was listed at £70. The firm has been contacted for comment. …

Karen Dee, the chief executive of the Airport Operators’ Association, said the Government’s measures [of slightly lowering the cost of its own testing services] were “little more than tinkering” and did not “go anywhere near far enough to meaningfully cut the costs of travel.”

Worth reading in full.

Cap Cost of Covid Tests at £40, Government Told by Tory MPs

Brits are being priced out of holidays abroad due to the hefty costs of PCR tests, which Tory MPs say should be capped at £40 and scrapped altogether for holidaymakers returning to the U.K. from ‘low risk’ countries. The Telegraph has the story.

Senior Conservative MPs are calling on Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to take immediate action to end “rip-off” prices of PCR tests that still average £75 per person and risk turning foreign holidays into the “preserve only of the wealthy”.

Writing for the Telegraph, Henry Smith, the Tory Chairman of the All-Party Future of Aviation Group said the Government should cap PCR tests at around £40 and scrap them for holidaymakers returning from “low-risk” countries.

“The rationale for the testing regime looks increasingly dubious. Why not, instead, sample a random group of arrivals rather than require everyone to pay for tests frequently run by shoddy companies failing to deliver tests on time and guilty of making hugely misleading price claims?” he wrote.

He was backed by Huw Merriman, Chairman of the Transport Select Committee, who published a letter he has sent to Mr Javid in which he urged the Government to give “serious consideration” to more “affordable” tests and rethink the need for PCR tests for passengers from Green and Amber List countries.

“The high cost, poor quality and lack of sequencing from PCR tests needs to be urgently addressed by the Government. They are an unnecessary barrier to affordable international travel,” he said. …

David Davis, a former Cabinet minister, said it would be “perfectly sensible” to cap test costs to prevent profiteering and axe the 20% VAT charge on PCR tests, which the Government say are necessary to prevent the import of Covid variants. …

Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the powerful 1922 Conservative backbench committee, said: “Analysis of test results shows fewer positive test results than in the general population. If the Government is mandating so many tests, then it should also require providers to offer them at a reasonable cost.” …

Fewer than one in 50 travellers from Red or Amber countries are testing positive for Covid, while only one in 20 of those positive tests are being genome sequenced for variants because the presence of the virus in the samples is “vanishingly small” after being suppressed by the vaccine.

Worth reading in full.

Children As Young as Five Face Mandatory PCR Tests When Travel Rules Change

We have learnt over the past year that no easing of lockdown rules comes without at least a few catches. The relaxing of travel quarantine rules for those who are fully vaccinated is no exception. Families that travel to “Amber List” countries may not have to self-isolate upon their return to the U.K. from July 19th, but they will have to force their children – aged between five and 18 – to undergo PCR testing, much to the anger of many parents. The Telegraph has the story.

Parents and academics claimed it was unnecessary and potentially harmful to test such young children, while tourism chiefs warned the extra costs for holidays could price many families out of foreign travel.

The Transport Secretary announced that all children aged five to 18 will have to undergo PCR tests when they return from Amber Countries with their parents or individually. Only those aged four or under will not have to be tested.

The tests are required as part of the Government’s new travel regime for double-jabbed adults and all children to be able to travel to Amber countries from July 19th without having to quarantine on their return to the U.K.

Children aged over 11 and all vaccinated adults will have to take pre-departure tests and a PCR test on or before day two after their arrival back in the U.K.

Those aged five to 11 have to take just the PCR test on arrival. For a family of four, it could add £400 to the cost of a holiday.

Most other countries in Europe exempt children aged under 12 but Mr Shapps said the PCR tests were necessary to enable the Government to track and prevent variants being imported through genome sequencing the samples.

Molly Kingsley, Co-Founder of UsforThem, a parents’ campaign group, said Britain had never tested healthy adults “let alone five year-olds for asymptomatic illnesses”.

“It is very unclear why we would be doing this now at a time when we know the vaccines have broken the link between infections and hospitalisations,” she said. 

“Many parents would feel uneasy about normalising testing for children as young as this. It sends a very negative message to our children that they are disease vectors.

“Any holiday with a family is expensive enough as it is. I would not put a five or eight year-old through this to go away.”

Professor Allyson Pollock, Director of the Newcastle University Centre for Excellence in Regulatory Science, said that with the link between infection, hospitalisation and deaths “hugely weakened”, testing children was illogical.

“We really should be asking: what is the prevalence of infection and how good is the natural immunity in the country they are returning to? What evidence is there that these tests will reduce transmission?” she said.

“I don’t understand the logic of it or what has informed it. Where are the evaluations and science to support this. They are making it up as they go along. This is the mess you get into when you introduce vaccine passports and Covid tests.

“You either make a decision that you don’t want people to travel to countries with high prevalence or coming back into them, or you simply say we have got pretty good immunity established in the country.”

The aviation industry welcomed the opening of Amber countries to vaccinated Britons as a “step in the right direction,” but urged the Government to ditch PCR tests for the fully jabbed.

Worth reading in full.

The Imperial Graph that Shows Infections Declined Before Lockdown and Increased Under It

The above graph is the COVID-19 epidemic curve for England, reconstructed by Imperial College’s REACT antibody survey by asking those who tested positive in an antibody test when their symptoms began. I’ve added the start dates for lockdowns in red and the end dates in blue.

It’s a very useful graph because it does not involve any PCR tests at all, only lateral flow immunoassay tests, self-administered at home. This means it does not suffer from the problem of detecting non-infectious virus as it is not detecting virus at all but antibodies. (Its specificity is reported as 98.6%, giving it a 1.4% background false positive rate, which the researchers adjust for.) This means, for example, that the epidemic decline is much faster than in the familiar “case” curves, and the curves are more symmetrical.

What does it show? Here’s what I take from it. You might see more.

Firstly, it provides further evidence that SARS-CoV-2 was circulating at low levels in England throughout December 2019 and to some degree also in November. This fits with widespread anecdotal evidence of people falling ill with Covid symptoms in December. It doesn’t fit with the original official timeline of an outbreak beginning in Wuhan in December.

Secondly, despite circulating widely during the winter of 2019-20, SARS-CoV-2 did not undergo fast spread in England until the end of February. Indeed, the winter of 2019-20 was the least deadly on record in terms of age-adjusted mortality, despite SARS-CoV-2 being around and infecting people.

Then, around February 25th 2020, it suddenly launches into a three-week long spike of extraordinary exponential growth. This abruptly comes to an end around March 17th, and after a short plateau till around March 21st it enters just as extreme a decline. This is all ahead of the first lockdown on March 23rd of course.

The mystery is: what happened on February 25th (or thereabouts – we don’t know whether Imperial’s assumptions about the incubation period are exactly right) to cause a virus that had been circulating for at least three months at a low level suddenly to go bang and spread like wildfire? It wasn’t panic – no one was panicking at the end of February. Mobility levels were still normal until around March 12th. There was nothing unusual about the weather. Suggestions on this welcome in the comments below.

Fewer Than 1 in 200 Travellers From “Amber List” Countries Are Testing Positive for Covid

Thousands of holidays have been ruined by the Government placing countries – most recently, Portugal – on its travel “Amber List”, forcing travellers who didn’t cancel their plans to fork out for at least two PCR tests and to quarantine for 10 days upon their return. But new data shows that fewer than one in 200 travellers from Amber List countries are testing positive when back in Britain. This discovery has led to more calls for restrictions to be eased before more harm is done to the already battered travel industry. The Times has more.

An analysis of the latest figures from NHS Test and Trace, which are updated every three weeks, also shows no “variants of concern” were detected from any passenger returning from one of the 167 countries on the Amber List.

Only 89 of 23,465 passengers who travelled to the U.K. from these destinations between May 20th and June 9th tested positive for the coronavirus – a rate of 0.4%. There were no positive cases from 151 of these countries…

Nobody travelling from countries on the quarantine-free “Green List” – which includes 11 destinations at present – tested positive during the same period and there were no variants of concern found.

Last night Conservative MPs and travel experts said the data revealed that the border restrictions were too strict as they increased pressure on ministers to significantly expand the green list when they meet on Thursday.

They also said the data strengthened the case for allowing travellers who have had both jabs to be exempt from quarantine, a policy which a senior cabinet minister has appeared to support…

Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs, said it was time ministers started to take advantage of Britain’s successful vaccine programme.

“Vaccination and testing are making international travel safer just as surely as they make things safer within our borders,” he said. “It’s time British people were able to reap the benefits of the vaccines and for us to get the travel industry moving again.”

Any easing of restrictions is likely to focus on those vaccinated against Covid (possibly just on those who have had both doses of a vaccine), leaving those who – for medical or other personal reasons – have not been vaccinated stuck at home.

Worth reading in full.

Cost of Covid Tests for Holidaymakers Still Too High, Says Travel Firm

When overseas travel returns this summer, holidaymakers – including those travelling to countries on the Government’s “green list” – will have to take at least one Covid test. Unfortunately, these don’t come cheap, with the average cost sitting at around £120 per person, per test. This, clearly, is enough to price out many families from holidays abroad. Competition between the companies offering PCR test kits is bringing prices down, but slowly. Randox, a firm based in Northern Ireland, has halved the cost of its kit to £60. Even then, testing costs will still add almost £250 to the holiday bill for a family of four (returning from a “green list” country).

The Chief Operating Officer at Hays Travel says that £60 is still too high and that the Government should step in to help make the cost of testing more manageable. Sky News has the story.

The cost of Covid tests for holidaymakers should be cut to £30 to encourage people to start travelling again, a boss at one of Britain’s biggest travel chains has told Sky News.

Jonathan Woodall, chief operating officer at Hays Travel, said that the current price of up to £200 for PCR tests was too high and will be a “barrier for customers” as restrictions ease next month.

He said the Government should help bring the cost down…

Industry figures including easyJet boss Johan Lundgren have said that the rule [on testing] threatens to price ordinary travellers out of returning to the skies.

Speaking to Sky’s Ian King Live, Mr Woodall said the cost of the tests would “cause a barrier” – especially for families looking at total bills of around £600 for the tests.

“We are hoping that Government will help us get those tests reduced,” he added.

Jonathan Woodall said that Randox’s price reduction was a step in the right direction but that the figure should be lower still.

From our point of view, we would like to see that price to be around £30, we think that would be acceptable…

It’s important that we can get our industry back to some normality, it’s important the customers can start to travel.

Worth reading in full.

Covid Testing Firm Cutting PCR Travel Test Cost to £60

A major UK Covid testing firm is set to halve the cost of its PCR test kit for travel to £60. This means that when overseas travel returns, testing costs will add almost £250 to the bill for a family of four (returning from a “green list” country) as opposed to almost £500 – a more feasible, yet still hefty sum. The Independent has the story.

Randox, based in Northern Ireland, says it will offer the test for just £60 to airline passengers – though the Independent understands negotiations are not yet complete.

At present international leisure travel from the UK is illegal. The Government has indicated it will allow overseas trips from May 17th – but says that all returning travellers must take at least one PCR test after arrival.

These tests, which require specialist equipment to analyse, typically cost £120 – representing almost £500 for a family of four.

The County Antrim firm is the first to announce a significant cut.

The Managing Director of Randox, Dr Peter FitzGerald, said: “In recognition of the needs of both the travel industry and the British public at this unprecedented time, Randox will reduce the all-inclusive cost of PCR testing for those in the UK undertaking international travel to £60 per test.

“We can see the pressures faced by both the travel industry and the general public and are committed to effective and economical testing to support holidaymakers and those undertaking international travel.” 

Even those travelling to “green list” countries on the Government’s “traffic light” system will have to take one test when returning to the UK, as the Telegraph recently reported.

Travellers who want to visit countries on the safe “green list” will still be expected to pay for gold standard PCR tests on their return to the UK…

People who have been fully vaccinated will still be required to take the PCR tests on or before the second day of their arrival back in the UK because of Government concerns that “green list” countries could still harbour new Covid variants.

Holidaymakers arriving from those countries will not have to spend any time in quarantine under the new traffic light system, which is expected to replace the current ban on foreign travel from May 17th.

The Independent’s report is worth reading in full.

Vast Majority of Positives in Schools Likely to be False

The “vast majority” of positives test results in schools are likely to be false, according to Jon Deeks, Professor of Biostatistics and head of the Test Evaluation Research Group at the University of Birmingham. The Telegraph has more.

Official data shows that the positive rate among secondary pupils is around 0.05 per cent, meaning there is a “high risk” that most rapid antigen tests carried out in secondary schools are false positives, according to Professor Jon Deeks.

Of the 3,867,007 lateral flow tests that were carried out on secondary pupils, just 1,805 were positive, according to the latest figures.

Health officials said that less than one in 1,000 results is a false positive overall. However, when the virus is on the wane, there is a higher likelihood of such results, as the number of true cases falls.

The positive case rate in schools equates to one in 2,142. At a rate of one in 1,000 false positives, from 3,867,007 tests you would expect 3,867 false positives.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Department for Education updated its official guidance today to say that all positive lateral flow tests taken in schools should be followed up by a confirmatory PCR test. Previously, this was only the case for tests taken by students at home.