Testing

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.

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”?

Germany Scraps Free Covid LFTs, Pushing Unvaccinated into Getting Jabbed

Germans who have not been vaccinated against Covid (or have not recently recovered from the virus) must now pay for tests in order to attend public gatherings, with free lateral flow tests having been scrapped by the Government. Added financial pressure is expected to nudge those who have decided not to get vaccinated into abandoning their positions. The Guardian has the story.

Public gatherings across Germany have since August 23rd been allowed to go ahead if they follow the so-called “3G” rule (short for geimpft, genesen oder getestet), meaning participants have to show proof of either vaccination, a recent recovery from the virus, or an up-to-date test result.

A large-scale infrastructure offering free Government-subsidised rapid antigen tests that sprung up across Germany over the spring and summer made testing part of people’s everyday routine while vaccinations were still hard to come by.

But as of October 11th the Government says it can no longer justify paying for free tests out of the public purse since all residents over the age of 12 can now get the jab if they want to.

The hope is that the cost and inconvenience of paying for coronavirus tests will help to boost Germany’s stagnating vaccination rate, a problem politicians did little to address while the country was locked in election campaign mode.

Similar plans are being drawn up in England which could push the unvaccinated to get jabbed if a similar vaccine passport scheme is introduced later this year.

Worth reading in full.

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.

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.

Postcard From Slovenia

We’re publishing a new postcard today, this one by Russell David about a recent trip to Ljubljana in Slovenia. Bit of a mixed bag – mask mandates are pretty ubiquitous – but probably better than a week in Skegness. Here is an extract:

Getting a flight can often be stressful; in Covid times multiply that by 10. I awoke (after bad dreams) two hours before my alarm on the day of my flight and was unable to get back to sleep, a million things going through my mind, a million things that could go wrong on the trip. It starts long before the actual day of the flight, as you take your test and send it off and hope it gets there in time… and that it’s negative… and that the result reaches you in time. I scored the hat-trick, so there was just the long drive to Gatwick on my mind, and then the hope that I’d remembered all my documents – the proof of double-jabbing, the To Whom It May Concern letter from my doctor saying I was medically exempt from wearing a mask (subsequently checked twice on the way out, not at all on the return), the Randox details I’d need to fill in a Passenger Locator Form (subsequently never checked), plus all the usual stuff.

Shortly before my easyJet flight to Ljubljana was airborne there was an announcement to the effect that there would be no peanut products served because one passenger had a nut allergy – which seemed like a neat summation of the rampant culture of safetyism we now live under, the culture that gave us the lockdowns. And in-flight announcements now have the Covid versions of airlines’ extreme paranoia (“In the event of landing on water…” etc), so you get warnings about not moving around the cabin unnecessarily and stressing the importance of us all always wearing our mask, though you can remove it for a “short period” while eating or drinking.

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.

How Has One of the U.K.’s Biggest Covid Testing Labs – Exposed by Panorama as Ignoring Protocols Designed to Prevent Cross-Contamination – Been Given a Clean Bill of Health?

by Jacinta Taylor

One of the U.K.’s biggest Covid testing labs, where shocking evidence of potential contamination was revealed by undercover filming, has been given a clean bill of health by a Government recognised inspector.

Secret filming by the BBC’s Panorama programme at the U.K. Biocentre in Milton Keynes last March showed staff cutting corners and processing samples in such a way that may cause cross-contamination – meaning some people who had taken a test via NHS Test and Trace could have received the wrong result.

But questions remain after it emerged that an accreditation inspection of the Milton Keynes facility was carried out in November 2020 – a good two months before Panorama began its undercover filming.

Worryingly, it is entirely possible the ‘witnessing’ element – a key component of the accreditation process – may have been conducted via a video link and not in person because of Covid restrictions.

The Panorama programme was filmed in January and February 2021 and caused many experts and members of the public to question the way the lab operates and the accuracy of the 70,000 Covid test results it is capable of processing each day.

It followed earlier allegations of poor working practices at the Milton Keynes establishment witnessed by virologist Dr. Julian Harris while he worked there processing coronavirus swab samples in the summer of 2020. (See this article by Dr. Harris for Lockdown Sceptics published last November.) Dr. Harris called in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) after highlighting poor safety protocols, a lack of suitable PPE and overcrowded biosecure workspaces. The HSE found five material breaches of health and safety legislation but no improvement notice was issued. Dr. Harris said he was “traumatised” and “freaked out” by seeing inexperienced colleagues unaware of the hazards they were dealing with.

Such was the public alarm at the Panorama revelations that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) was prompted to issue a statement promising: “We take concerns extremely seriously and we will be fully investigating all the allegations that have been made.”

But exactly what form the investigations took and who undertook it remains unclear. The U.K. Accreditation Service (UKAS), an independent company which “checks the checkers” and which is recognised by the Government, confirmed that since March 2020, much of its “witnessing” has been carried out remotely although it had adopted a more “blended” approach since restrictions were lifted.

UKAS issued the lab with a Certificate of Accreditation on June 10th of this year. A spokesman said: “UKAS is unable to go into details on individual assessments, including any witnessing arrangements, beyond saying that testing would have been witnessed (either remotely or in-person) as part of the assessment accreditation process.”

The Daily Sceptic asked me, an experienced freelance investigative journalist, to find out what the outcomes of the DHSC investigations were.

It’s fair to say that the DHSC dragged its heels over giving an answer to the straightforward questions I asked about the outcome of its investigations into the concerns raised both by Panorama and Dr. Harris.

Of Dr. Harris, the DHSC would only say that it “does not comment on individual cases”. Even Dr. Harris himself has had some difficulty getting a straight response. “I’ve been pushed from pillar to post trying to find out what action they have taken in relation to the concerns I raised,” he said.

The initial response was a bland statement from the DHSC in which it said:

The Government demands the highest standards to be upheld by all the laboratories in our network, and robust quality controls and safety procedures are in place at all sites. Regular inspections are carried out to ensure these robust protocols are being adhered to. The Milton Keynes lab was inspected by the UKAS in November 2020 and was recommended for an accreditation which recognises international standards for quality and competence.

When repeated requests for more information were ignored, I contacted the Chief Media Relations Officer for NHS Test and Trace only to be told: “I’m afraid you’ll need to get in touch with the public enquiries team for DHSC, as we only handle press enquiries.” It was only after I persisted again and again for more clarity that a further statement came from another senior media relations officer within the DHSC. This time the statement said:

The Panorama programme was aired in March 2020 and in following reviews of the Milton Keynes lab in April 2021 DHSC is satisfied that the appropriate standards, quality controls and safety procedures continue to be maintained within the laboratory. The Milton Keynes lab was inspected by the UKAS in November 2020. In June 2021 this year, the lab received UKAS ISO15189 accreditation which is the international standard for quality and competence in medical labs.

The DHSC did not elaborate on who conducted the reviews of the lab in April 2021 or on the findings.

During the Panorama programme, a reporter working undercover as a technician at the lab filmed staff cutting corners and processing samples in such a way that risked cross-contamination, meaning negative samples could be contaminated by positive samples, thereby leading to false positive results. Evidence captured on film showed contamination risks where some test samples “glooped” across an area where other samples had been placed, checks to ensure samples could be identified were rushed (meaning tests were sometimes discarded unnecessarily) and Covid test swabs were left in their tubes when processed presenting a further contamination risk. Disturbingly, the reporter was told by a quality control scientist that the quality of the results became progressively worse throughout the day.

In its defence, the lab said it had followed all necessary rules and regulations.

Jacinta Taylor is a freelance investigative journalist.

Test and Trace Call Centre Staff Are Being Laid off Because There Aren’t Enough ‘Cases’ to Keep Them Busy

Test and Trace bosses are having to lay off staff because there aren’t enough ‘cases’ to keep them busy, just weeks after they were reportedly pushed by the Government to hire thousands more. The Sun has the story.

Test and Trace call centre staff in England are being let go just weeks after a drive to hire reinforcements ahead of the dreaded third wave, the Sun can reveal.

Outsourcing firm Sitel has reportedly told phone handlers they are no longer needed because the service is overstaffed.

Officials confirmed the Department of Health is shrinking Test and Trace because of a “decrease” in case numbers over the summer – despite signs they are now rising again.

One call centre worker claimed 4,000 workers – who phone Covid positive cases and their contacts to make sure people self-isolate – could lose their jobs after Sitel started short-notice terminations in August.

But bosses would not say how many will be let go.

The source said: “Some people have only been employed for two weeks and they’re already being told to leave. We’ve been hiring 60 people a day for the last two months.

“I think sacking people in such a short space of time without any notice is bad.”

Contractors were reportedly paid to hire thousands more tracers earlier in the summer when top Government advisers warned cases could hit 100,000 a day after lockdown ended.

But infections peaked at 55,000 in July and have since fallen to around 35,000 per day.

Worth reading in full.

Handful of Countries Added to the Travel ‘Green List’

The Government’s ‘traffic light’ travel lists have been updated again, with just seven countries set to join the ‘Green List’. But Canada, which is one of these seven countries, currently has a ban on Britons travelling over anyway. BBC News has the story.

Canada and Denmark are among seven countries moving to the Green List in the latest changes to Covid restrictions.

Thailand and Montenegro are being added to the U.K. Government’s ‘Red List’ – meaning they are considered to be among the highest-risk destinations.

Finland, the Azores, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Lithuania are also moving to the Green List.

The changes will come into force at 4am on Monday.

Travellers coming from Green List countries do not have to quarantine when they come back to the U.K. – whether or not they have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. They still have to be tested before leaving the U.K. however and upon their return, and fill in a passenger location form. 

But while Canada is on the Green List, it currently has a ban on British nationals entering the country. 

Only U.K. or Irish nationals, or U.K. residents, are allowed in to the U.K. if they have been to Red List countries. They then have to pay to self-isolate in a Government-approved quarantine hotel. [Good luck to them!] …

Airlines U.K., which represents U.K.-registered carriers, said the “small number of green destinations” was making international travel “more expensive, burdensome and uncertain compared to other countries”. …

Charlie Cornish, Chief Executive of Manchester Airports Group which operates Manchester, London Stansted and East Midlands airports, said the changes to the travel traffic light system will make “little difference” to the recovery of the travel industry and called on the Government to “overhaul” it.

Worth reading in full.