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Will PCR travel tests be scrapped this month?


The introduction of mandatory PCR Covid tests for travel has been a bone of contention for both travellers and the travel sector.

The government reduced the cost of mandatory Covid testing for travel in August following widespread criticism and complaints from consumers, the travel industry and even the UK Competition and Markets Authority, that tests were exceptionally costly.

Many trips, even to amber and green list countries, still require multiple tests to be taken at present – even by fully vaccinated travellers.

In a statement, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government would “urgently review” the list of government approved test providers “to ensure pricing is clear and transparent”.

He said: “Too many providers are acting like cowboys and that needs to stop. The public should be allowed to enjoy their summer holidays without having to face excessive costs or anxiety.”

But with the government’s latest travel rules update expected imminently, will the requirement for travel tests be reduced, or even scrapped?

Here’s everything we know so far.

Will travel tests be scrapped this month?

Mr Javid hinted on Tuesday that PCR testing for double vaccinated travellers may be scrapped.

Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Transport Select Committee, asked the health secretary if he would “entertain the idea of moving to lateral flow tests, which are cheaper, and then only the small proportion of positive cases will then need to take up a PCR test”.

Mr Javid replied: “I don’t want to pre-empt the statement by the transport secretary but I believe that when he makes that statement, he will be pleased.”

He added: “It is important that we have a system of surveillance, especially around variants across the world.

“There are different ways to do that. We have chosen a particular path at the moment, but it is important to have that surveillance.

“As I have alluded to earlier, we are planning to make some changes around the travel regime and the Transport Secretary will come to the House as soon as he is ready.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps is expected to make an announcement on changes to travel on the 16 or 17 September.

What has the travel industry said?

Abta, the leading organisation for travel agents and tour operators in the UK, has called on the government to abandon Covid testing for most holidaymakers.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the travel organisation said that fully vaccinated travellers should not be subject to testing on their return from lower-risk countries.

It also called for a “significant overhaul” of the traffic light system for travel, adding that government policies had “choked” the summer’s travel trade.

Elsewhere, the boss of Heathrow called on the government to scrap all testing for double vaccinated travellers and the amber list.

The UK’s largest airport reported on Wednesday that passenger numbers remain 71 per cent down in August compared with the same month pre-pandemic with “every-changing restrictions, expensive and unnecessary testing requirements and lack of a common approach across borders continue to hinder the UK’s economic recovery.”

In a statement, it describes the current traffic light system as an “outlier” that is “delaying the government’s Global Britain ambitions” and “handing rivals a competitive advantage while the UK loses market share.”

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: ‘The government has the tools to protect the UK’s international competitiveness which will boost the economic recovery and achieve its ‘global Britain’ ambitions.

“If ministers fail to take this opportunity to streamline the travel rules then the UK will fall further behind as trade and tourists will increasingly bypass the UK.”

The CEO of Gatwick Airport echoed this call, describing existing travel restrictions “out of step”.

Stewart Wingate said: “With vaccination rates across Europe comparable, if not better than the UK’s, the time has come for testing to be removed altogether for travellers who have been double jabbed.

“Our continued travel restrictions are out of step with much of Europe and continue to have a real impact on jobs and livelihoods, business and growth opportunities while also keeping friends and family apart.”

When will we know more?

Three weeks after the last update to the UK’s “traffic light” travel lists, the government is expected to announce the latest changes to the green, amber and red lists this week.

There is no clarity on the exact timing of the announcement by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, but it is looking likely to be today or tomorrow, 16 or 17 September.

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