Rapid Covid tests could make foreign holidays affordable within weeks.
Costly ‘gold-standard’ swabs are currently required for all travellers arriving in Britain.
But last night Boris Johnson said he had asked officials to consider whether cheap on-the-spot tests could be used instead. The Mail can also reveal that he sees reopening the holiday market as a ‘priority’ and hopes to restart travel from May 17.
Anyone coming to the UK has to take a pre-flight test and buy a two-swab package to be used two and eight days after arrival.
Official packages use gold-standard PCR technology and cost around £200 a head. Mr Johnson’s officials will examine whether travellers could switch to the fast-turnaround ‘lateral flow devices’ that the Government is giving away.
The move would bring hope to the millions of Britons desperate for a foreign holiday after months of lockdown.
The Government’s traffic light system for resuming international travel will assess countries on criteria like vaccination rates and coronavirus case numbers. Using those criteria, countries like the US and the UAE could be given ‘green’ status
Travel chiefs have warned families might be priced out of going abroad if they had to pay hundreds of pounds for testing.
The development came as the Prime Minister pushed back against scientific predictions of a third wave of disease when restrictions are eased.
He said he was determined to stick to his roadmap of lifting almost all curbs by June 21 and he saw nothing in the data to change that.
In other developments:
- 2,379 Covid cases and 20 deaths were reported yesterday – down from 4,040 and 56 respectively last Tuesday;
- Supplies of Moderna vaccine should be available by the end of the month;
- Mr Johnson publicly backed the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab amid growing suggestions that the UK’s medical regulator could impose limits on its use;
- A trial of the vaccine on children has been paused while the watchdog probes a possible link with rare blood clots;
- Labour signalled it would vote down plans for the use of vaccine passports;
- Secondary school and college pupils in England will have to continue wearing face masks in class after Easter;
- Mr Johnson hailed the result from an early-stage trial of another jab, from French firm Valneva;
- Researchers said resistance to Covid vaccines among ethnic minority Britons was fading quickly;
- The International Monetary Fund said Britain’s economy was set to grow at its fastest rate in more than 30 years.
EasyJet chief executive Johan Lundgren today hit out at Boris Johnson’s traffic light system for resuming international travel
How much could the testing requirement cost families going on holiday to ‘green list’ countries?
Current travel rules for entering the UK state that people must be able to show proof of a negative test taken in the three days before arrival.
It is recommended that these tests are of the PCR laboratory-based type which can cost approximately £100.
The new traffic light system states that travel from ‘green list’ countries will require people to be tested before and after they fly.
It is thought the system could consist of a mix of a PCR test before departure and a cheaper and more rapid lateral flow test on arrival back in the UK.
Children under the age of 11 do not have to be tested under the current rules.
But that means a family of four, with two children over the age of 11, could still face a testing bill of more than £400 under the new system.
Lateral flow tests are much cheaper than the standard PCR ones, with some reports suggesting No10 can buy them for as little as £5 each. They also offer results in as little as 15 minutes.
They are not as sensitive as the gold-standard laboratory tests, which can take up to three days to produce a result.
One study found they missed up to 40 per cent of asymptomatic cases and are less accurate when self-administered. However, they perform much better at picking up cases where people have a high viral load.
On Monday, the PM confirmed plans for a traffic-light system to kickstart foreign travel.
This would lift quarantine but keep the testing system in place for arrivals from low-risk ‘green countries’.
Passengers would be forced to undertake a test within 72 hours of boarding a return flight and at least one post-arrival, possibly two.
Destination countries may also require more tests as a condition of entry, meaning the cost of a family holiday could soar by more than £1,500. Bosses at Heathrow, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways raised concerns, with easyJet’s chief branding the plans ‘unfair’.
Mr Johnson revealed he was looking at using cheaper tests and said: ‘I do think we want to make things as easy as we possibly can.
The boss of easyJet is right to focus on this issue. We’re going to see what we can do to make things as flexible and as affordable as possible.’
Anyone testing positive would still have to take a confirmatory PCR test because it can detect ‘variants of concern’.
However a move to lateral flow kits would still save families hundreds of pounds. They can cost as little as £12 each.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: ‘Testing will be essential for restarting travel safely, but private tests in the UK are currently too expensive and risk pricing most people out of travel.
‘Other countries have found solutions to reduce the cost of private testing, so if the Government is serious about making travel safe and affordable when it restarts, it must urgently look at ways to reduce these expenses.’
Heathrow chief John Holland-Kaye said: ‘The main concern is the cost of all of the pre-departure test and post-arrival tests, which as I understand it needs to be a [more expensive] PCR-based test.
‘We need to make sure that this doesn’t just become something that only the wealthy people can afford to do, that it’s much more democratic and widely accessible.’
Shai Weiss, chief of Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘We can’t have a prohibitively expensive testing system that puts businesses, people and families off travelling.’
Johan Lundgren, head of easyJet, said PCR tests were ‘way over and above what the cost is of an average easyJet fare’.
Mr Johnson’s system will see British travellers going to ‘green list’ countries required to take two Covid tests
Forcing travellers to pay for them, he added, would mean ‘you wouldn’t open up international travel for everyone, you would open up international travel for people who can afford it’.
Under the traffic-light scheme those returning from ‘red’ countries would have to quarantine in a hotel for ten days, while arrivals from amber destinations will have to self-isolate at home.
Ten-day self-isolation will only be lifted for green countries, although it is thought only a handful of destinations will make it on to this list by early summer. Officials say it is too early to say which countries will start on it.
Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister saw the return of summer holidays as a priority, both for the economy and for national morale. ‘He wants people to be able to have a summer holiday – that is his aim,’ an insider said.