Business

Travel bosses demand date for PCR test switch

Covid test

Image source, PA Media

Tour operators and airlines have called on the government to publish the date when Covid tests will change for fully vaccinated travellers.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last month that “day two” PCR tests would be replaced with cheaper lateral flow tests from “the end of October”.

But no firm details have been issued.

Steve Heapy, boss of Jet2.com and Jet2holidays, said: “It is time for the UK government to confirm exactly when these changes will come into force.”

He added: “Hard-working customers and families do not deserve delays and speculation, they deserve clarity so that they can plan and look forward to their holidays.”

Last week, Mr Shapps told the Today programme that he hoped the change would happen “in time for people returning from half-term holidays potentially, and certainly by the end of October”.

Jet2, the UK’s second-largest tour operator, saw a welcome growth in bookings after a difficult 18 months. The travel business added: “Thanks to the demand, half-term is incredibly busy and we’ll be operating up to 2,500 weekly flights.”

When travellers return to the UK, they need to do a Covid test on day two after arrival at the latest, if they are fully vaccinated. This must be a PCR test.

If they are not fully vaccinated, they must quarantine on arrival in the UK for 10 days and do a test on day two and day eight.

Under the new rules, the PCR test will be replaced with a cheaper lateral flow test if you are fully vaccinated, but the date of the change remains unknown. There are no changes if you are not fully vaccinated.

The cost of PCR tests has proven to be controversial during the spring and summer. Many travellers complained of being ripped off, with PCR tests costing as much as £75 to £100 a person.

Industry leaders believe these costs were a prohibitive barrier to consumers booking and therefore held back a recovery in the aviation sector.

The criticisms were echoed by Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, which represents major UK airlines and carriers.

He said: “Passengers still don’t have clarity as to what tests they’ll be asked to take. The detail is important and obviously it takes time to work through, but we now urgently need to know so that people can plan ahead.

“It’s a hugely important week, not just for carriers, but families desperate to get away. The reassurance that they won’t have to take expensive PCR tests is critical.”

Half-term holidays begin in some areas of England this Friday, while other schools in England and Wales follow in the last week of October.

Northern Ireland’s schools have just a short break in October and Scotland’s half-term has already happened.

Rory Boland, travel editor at consumer magazine Which?, said: “Travellers were encouraged to hold off booking tests for half-term holidays by government until it released more details of which tests were needed. Those details never arrived.

“The risk now is that an unprecedented number of people rush to book tests at the last minute through a testing system that has repeatedly shown it can’t cope with the numbers of people travelling.

“Booking travel is stressful in the current environment and requires a significant amount of homework. But how can you get your homework right if the government won’t tell you what the questions are?”

Even though international travel has been off the agenda for many travellers, as demand has rebounded, so has the desire to visit popular destinations this half term.

Jet2 added: “Majorca, Canaries and Turkey in particular are very popular.”

The government said: “From late October, eligible fully vaccinated passengers including under-18s returning from a rest of world country will have the option to replace their day two test with a cheaper lateral flow test, followed by a free PCR test if positive, reducing the cost of tests on arrival into England.”

The government has always maintained that protecting the public health of the UK is core to travel policy.