Travel testing farce as 6% of positive swabs sent for variant analysis
Fresh travel testing farce as it emerges just 6% of positive swabs are sent for analysis to track new Covid variants
- Holidaymakers spent more than £26million on PCR swabs after arriving in England during July, research suggests
- But only 293 of the 4,998 samples that came back positive were sequenced – meaning they were analysed for possible mutations of the virus
- This is despite ministers insisting sequencing is crucial for tracking pandemic
Holidaymakers are paying millions for Covid tests that are not being checked for potentially dangerous new variants.
They spent more than £26million on PCR swabs after arriving in England during July, research suggests today.
But only 293 of the 4,998 samples that came back positive were sequenced – meaning they were analysed for possible mutations of the virus – even though ministers insist it is crucial for tracking the pandemic.
The analysis of official figures carried out by the Liberal Democrats means each sequenced test cost passengers the equivalent of £90,000.
It comes amid growing anger at the huge cost of Covid tests for families taking foreign breaks or visiting relatives overseas this summer.
Holidaymakers are paying millions for Covid tests that are not being checked for potentially dangerous new variants
Ministers have been forced to cut the cost of the testing packages while the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog investigates ‘excessive’ charges by the 400-plus firms offering the tests.
Britain is among the most expensive destinations in the world for PCR tests, according to insurers – with the swabs adding an average of £552 to the price of a trip to an amber-list country for a family of four. Lib Dem health spokesman Munira Wilson said: ‘Testing at borders is crucial to ensure potentially dangerous new variants do not arrive in the UK, yet this isn’t the reality on the ground.
‘Travellers are paying through the nose for a system that isn’t doing its job. The Government is not only dragging its feet over the cost of PCR tests but isn’t even using most of them to track new variants. They must cap the cost of PCR tests for travel and ensure that as many as possible are sequenced for new variants.’ The party’s analysis of NHS Test and Trace data found 355,994 PCR tests were taken by arrivals into England between July 1 and 21.
At an average cost of £75 per test – which double-jabbed travellers from amber nations must take two days after arrival – the total spent on the tests was estimated at £26.7million. Overall, 4,998 came back positive over the three weeks analysed. Only 293 (5.9 per cent) of these were sequenced in the hunt for new variants.
Last week Transport Secretary Grant Shapps used the need for sequencing to justify the requirement for travellers to use PCR swabs instead of cheaper lateral flow tests, telling Sky News: ‘PCR tests… will help out clinicians and scientists work together to keep a very close eye on variants.’
Only nine of the 217 recent positive tests from travellers returning from Portugal were sequenced, along with ten from France, 12 from Greece and 15 from Italy.
The tiny proportion of tests being sequenced is the latest farce in the travel testing saga that has left millions of families out of pocket and put many Britons off flying this summer, devastating the airline industry and overseas resorts.
The Mail revealed last week that some Government-approved providers were charging five times as much for a single PCR test as budget carriers were charging for flights to Europe. A Mail campaign has called for travellers to be able to take lateral flow tests on arrival in Britain, or for VAT to be scrapped on PCR tests.
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