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The cost (and faff) of acquiring an expensive PCR test has put many of us off travel abroad. But now, the system is set to change to make tests easier and cheaper to access.
From October 24, fully vaccinated passengers arriving in England from countries that are not on the red list can take a cheaper and quicker lateral flow test, rather than the PCR version.
This will apply to the test they’re required to take on day two of arrival to the UK. Fully vaccinated individuals no longer have to take a pre-departure test when travelling to a non-red list country.
On October 11, the red list was cut to just seven countries, opening up travel without PCR tests to most of the world for Brits who are fully vaccinated.
The change to the day two test will come into effect for those returning from half-term breaks. Here’s what else we know about the changes:
How can you access a lateral flow test for travel?
Eligible travellers will be able to order lateral flow tests from private testing providers, with a list of approved private providers going live on gov.uk on October 22.
Passengers are also able to book to have a test which they can take on their arrival into the UK at testing centres located in some airports. You can not use a free NHS lateral flow test. However, private lateral flow tests will be cheaper than private PCR tests, the government has said, and they offer a result within half an hour, rather than a couple of days.
How will lateral flow tests be monitored?
Passengers must upload a photo of their lateral flow test and booking reference supplied by the private provider to verify results as soon as possible.
Anyone who tests positive will be supplied with free a confirmatory NHS PCR test, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.
If you test positive, you will need to self-isolate and take the confirmatory PCR test. You’ll need to remain in isolation until you receive that result.
What happens if you’re not fully vaccinated?
If you’re unvaccinated, you still have to take a pre-departure test, and PCR tests on days two and eight of return to the UK, whether you’re returning from a red list country or a non-red list country. Unvaccinated people also have to self-isolate at home for 10 days when coming back from any country.
In order to be considered fully vaccinated, you must have had your second vaccination two weeks ago.
What are the rules for red list countries?
Everyone traveling to/from a red list country will have to take a pre-departure test, plus a PCR test on day two and eight of their return to the UK. You must also quarantine in a hotel for 11 nights. This rule is in place regardless of your vaccination status.
Why are the changes happening?
Health secretary Sajid Javid said the government wants to make going abroad easier and cheaper, whether you’re travelling for work or visiting friends and family.
“This change to testing is only possible thanks to the incredible progress of our vaccination programme, which means we can safely open up travel as we learn to live with the virus.” he said.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps added: “Taking away expensive mandatory PCR testing will boost the travel industry and is a major step forward in normalising international travel and encouraging people to book holidays with confidence.”
What do those in the travel industry say?
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the industry body representing UK-registered carriers, called the switch “great news”.
“We’re pleased to get it over the line in time for the crucial half-term period, which will be a massive relief to families desperate to get away this autumn,” he said.
However, Paul Charles, CEO of travel consultancy The PC Agency, doesn’t think the changes go far enough.
“It’s progress but if you’re fully jabbed you shouldn’t need to take a test at all. Testing measures are not only a faff for many but also amount to a tax on travel and put off people from booking with confidence, due to the higher costs,” he said.
“These barriers certainly won’t help the travel sector to recover as quickly as it should be by now. In addition, I don’t have to be tested if I return from a packed football stadium so why should I have to take a test returning from a business meeting or villa holiday?”
The rules (and traffic lights) are always changing, but one thing’s clear, we dream of being Anywhere But Here. This seasonal series offers you clear-headed travel advice, ideas-packed staycation guides, clever swaps and hacks, and a healthy dose of wanderlust.