A scientist is warning the Government could be putting the country at risk by easing testing requirements for vaccinated travellers from next month.
As part of a relaxation of restrictions for international travel announced last Friday, the Government plans to drop pre-departure tests for fully vaccinated travellers and children from 4 October.
Also, it will change the day 2 test for returning holidaymakers from a PCR to a cheaper and faster lateral flow test (LFT) from the end of October.
A Department for Transport spokesperson confirmed to Travel Gossip today that the change will apply to all fully vaccinated adults and children from the age of five to 17 and will be made in time for families returning from half-term holidays.
The move has been widely welcomed by the travel industry and by consumers as LFTs are around £20 cheaper than PCRs, so that would represent a saving of about £80 per family.
However, a scientist working with one of the leading testing labs is warning that ending PCR tests, even for fully vaccinated travellers, could allow new COVID variants to enter the country.
Professor Denis Kinane, Founding Scientist at testing firm Cignpost Express Test said: “I welcome plans to simplify the travel restrictions, particularly around the traffic light system. But any move to drop gold-standard PCR tests in favour of lateral flow will be a calculated risk that could put Britain at risk of new Covid variants entering the country.
“Currently, Cignpost’s own data shows four in every 1,000 people are testing positive after they arrive in the UK, and every one of them had already supposedly recorded a negative lateral flow test while abroad.
“That is the equivalent of 400 people entering the UK with COVID every single day.
“Without PCR testing, we are in danger of reducing our ability to sequence positive tests for variants of concern, making us blind to new threats or changes in the virus,” he said.
Of course, you could argue that a company that makes a profit from testing returning holidaymakers would want to keep the more expensive PCR tests in place but a spokesperson said that for Cignpost the testing costs for PCRs are ‘significantly higher’. Cignpost Express Test charges £69 for a PCR day 2 test and £35 for an antigen.
A spokesperson said: “Our primary concern is the difference in the accuracy of lateral flow tests in comparison to the gold standard PCR.
“Cignpost has consistently called for a reduction in the number of tests and for a relaxation in restrictions for holidaymakers.
“ In an opinion piece in the Telegraph last week, Denis Kinane said quarantine from red list countries should be halved, the day 8 test could be dropped, and the pre-departure test was not fit for purpose.
“However, Cignpost urged the Government to keep the PCR test as it is far more accurate than lateral flow tests. If the UK Government’s chief concern is to keep out dangerous new variants with a single test, better to use the most reliable one.”
The Government says the switch from PCRs to LFTs will only be for vaccinated arrivals and children, and anyone who tests positive will be required to take a follow-up PCR test to allow genome sequencing.