A top coronavirus testing firm will halve the price of their PCR swabs for airline passengers to get people flying again this summer after ministers gave holidaymakers the green light to book foreign trips.
Randox today announced it would charge holidaymakers jetting back to Britain £60 for the gold standard tests, rather than the usual £120 they cost.
The cut-price tests will be available for customers of partnering airlines, which have not yet been revealed but are likely to include big-name carriers.
It will come as a lift to passengers and aviation bosses who railed against last week’s Government announcement requiring all returning travellers to take a PCR test under the ‘traffic light’ system being introduced on May 17.
Britons will be allowed to fly to ‘green’ countries with low Covid rates and strong vaccine rollouts, as long as they take tests before flying out and returning home.
Ministers resisted calls to allow people arriving from low-risk countries to take rapid lateral flow tests which are much cheaper. PCR tests require swabs being processed in a laboratory, which can take several days and add to the expense – a family of four would have to shell out an extra £600.
Airline bosses including easyJet’s Johan Lundgren have warned the current testing requirements could make travel prohibitively expensive, with Covid tests costing more than the flight itself in some cases.
They have argued that families would be reluctant to book if they were forced to find an extra £600 to pay for the tests on top of the cost of the holiday.
However, government sources insisted that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, would ensure the ‘profiteering’ makers of the most reliable PCR tests cut their prices.
The viability of holidays (Malta pictured) is uncertain and hinges on spikes in other countries, as well as the possibility of vaccine passports
‘Profiteering’ private firms add £1,000 to price of holiday for four as they charge up to £300 for single Covid test that other firms offer for £60
Private Covid-19 testing firms have been accused of profiteering by charging up to £300 for a single PCR test which cost just £20 to make while other companies charge as little as £60 for the same tests.
The most expensive companies on the official list of Government-approved firms sell coronavirus tests for around four times the price of the cheapest firms and five times if you want 24-hour weekend turnaround.
An investigation by the Daily Telegraph has found that this can be the difference between adding £1,000 to a family-of-four’s summer holiday overseas and a potentially more affordable charge of £240.
Every holidaymaker returning to Britain from May 17 will have to take a PCR test on or before the second day of arrival, even when travelling back from a so-called ‘green list country’. People coming back to the UK from ‘amber’ or ‘red list’ countries will have to take two tests, on days two and eight.
It follows plans by minsters to cut the cost of PCR tests and remove any private testing firms that were ‘profiteering’ from the official list, after the Government announced a huge expansion of twice-weekly testing.
Boris Johnson said the multi-billion pound move can help the return to normality by picking up asymptomatic cases and identifying local outbreaks faster.
But concerns were immediately raised as when used on that scale the tests could wrongly label tens of thousands of people a week as having Covid – forcing them to isolate and get more reliable PCR checks to show they are clear.
Randox managing director Dr Peter FitzGerald said today: ‘In recognition of the needs of both the travel industry and the British public at this unprecedented time, Randox will reduce the all-inclusive cost of PCR testing for those in the UK undertaking international travel to £60 per test.
‘We can see the pressures faced by both the travel industry and the general public and are committed to effective and economical testing to support holidaymakers and those undertaking international travel.’
The £60 PCR test will be ordered online and purchased using a discount code, Randox said.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said reducing the price of testing is ‘the magic wand to recovery in the travel sector’.
He went on: ‘More providers need to encourage people back to travel with lower per person costs so as to stimulate the market.’
Mr Charles also urged the Government to abolish VAT on tests ‘so that the sector can benefit from every measure possible’.
He added: ‘Border policies have crushed the travel sector and it now needs full support to get back on its feet.’
On Friday, Mr Shapps gave holidaymakers the green light to book foreign trips.
He said: ‘This is the first time I’m able to come on and say I’m not advising against booking foreign holidays.’ He added that people would realistically be able to start booking in ‘two or three weeks’.
Ministers will reveal in early May which countries will be labelled under the new system as green, amber or red, each with different levels of restrictions.
People arriving from green countries will need to take a PCR test within 72 hours before departing for the UK and a second within two days of arrival. They will not need to quarantine.
Anyone arriving from an amber country will also need to take a pre-departure test, with further PCR tests on day two and day eight, and be required to quarantine at home for ten days – although there will be an option to buy an extra PCR test on day five under the ‘test to release’ scheme to allow travellers to end their self-isolation early.
People arriving from the highest-risk red-list countries will be forced to quarantine in a specific hotel at a cost of £1,750.
Travel to and from the countries will remain banned for most people, with only British and Irish residents allowed to enter the UK from red-list nations.
Mr Shapps said last week: ‘I’m not telling people that they shouldn’t book some holidays now, it’s the first time I’ve been able to say that for many months, I think everybody doing it understands there are risks with coronavirus.
A major coronavirus testing firm is to halve the cost of PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK from overseas
‘For the first time, people can start to think about visiting loved ones abroad, or perhaps a summer holiday, but we’re doing it very, very cautiously because we don’t want to see any return of coronavirus in this country’.
Boris Johnson has confirmed he wants to lower the bill families would need to pay for testing, saying: ‘I do think we want to make things as easy as we possibly can.’
The Prime Minister added: ‘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.’
But the viability of holidays is uncertain and hinges on spikes in other countries, with the third wave in Europe making it an unlikely destination.
The possibility of vaccine passports to unlock foreign travel is also a live discussion under consideration, and will likely be a feature of trips abroad.
From last week anyone in England can order a free lateral flow test even if they are not displaying symptoms.
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