Passengers due to arrive back in England were today desperately searching for rapid PCR swab providers after a change in the rules sent families’ testing bills soaring.
These new regulations, effective at 4am this morning, require that all travellers who have been fully vaccinated must take costly PCR tests within two working days of arrival in the UK.
This is in response to Omicron’s variant. It comes just a month after PCR swabs were abandoned in favor of faster lateral flow tests.
Under the new rules, travellers must also self-isolate at home until receiving their results – with many trying to work out how to make this period as short as possible.
The quickest turnaround test provided at London Heathrow Airport is the ‘ExpressTest’ by Cignpost which costs from £69 for next-day results by 10pm.
But travellers have also been sharing tips with each other on a small number of providers offering a three-hour turnaround on a PCR – with one Harley Street clinic approved by Gov.UK offering one by a medical professional for a whopping £395.
Some also noticed three-hour tests are offered by Cignpost for £119 in the Heathrow departures area, but the firm told MailOnline these were not available for arrivals.
Travellers could be trapped in self-isolation due to changes to the rules.
It is possible that people may be unaware they have Covid-19. This is because it will not need to incubate for long enough to cause symptoms.
This morning, people waited to check in for British Airways flight at London Heathrow Airport.
Today’s busy Terminal Five at London Heathrow Airport was packed with passengers as they waited to check-in.
After the new testing regulations were changed, people waited in line to board flights at Heathrow Airport.
Nicola Sturgeon, from Scotland, has asked Boris Johnson for self-isolation rules to be extended to all UK arrivals to increase their duration to two to eight days. However the Prime Minister refuses to comply.
On Sunday, Quarantine hotel were also reinstated. It means anyone arriving from ten countries in southern Africa on the ‘red list’ must quarantine in hotel rooms for eleven nights on return at a cost of £2,285.
Health minister Edward Argar insisted Britons should not react by cancelling any foreign Christmas holidays, but accept a renewed ‘element of risk’ when travelling.
He said: ‘We’re not saying cancel your holidays to France or other countries, but we have put in place that proportionate testing and border control.
‘We cannot say what will happen there over the coming weeks, and in travelling at the moment with this virus, particularly with a new variant around, there is an element of risk.’
But the former chief of IAG, which owns British Airways, warned that tougher restrictions have been ‘completely ineffective in the past’.
Willie Walsh, who now runs industry body the International Air Transport Association, said: ‘I’m very disappointed to see this knee-jerk reaction by governments to the latest development.’
Speaking to the BBC, he added: ‘It’s clear that these measures have been completely ineffective in the past but impose huge hardship on people who are trying to connect with families and friends, and clearly massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry.’
He said the failure of similar measures to prevent a second Covid wave in the UK after being implemented in May 2020 showed they ‘do not have any long-term benefits’ and are ‘not the answer’.
In the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said ministers won’t keep the new measures in place ‘for a day longer than necessary’ if the Omicron variant turns out not to be as dangerous as feared.
When more information is available about the mutant strain, they will be reviewed.
Yesterday saw calls to reduce the cost of PCR testing, eliminate VAT and allow travelers to get free NHS tests to prevent families being excluded from Christmas travel.
The average cost of a single swab among more than 450 providers listed on the Government website yesterday was £82.
For a family of five this would add £410 to the cost of a trip abroad. By comparison, rapid lateral flow tests are typically about £20 to £25.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the cross-party Future of Aviation Group of MPs, said: ‘It is essential the Government ensures that we avoid the profiteering that we have previously seen and that any rogue providers are prevented from exploiting those travelling over the next few weeks.
‘The Government must as a matter of urgency focus on the cost of testing and, as a minimum, consider removing VAT and explore options to bring the cost of testing down to a minimum or ideally free of charge.’
Former aviation minister Paul Maynard said: ‘Government must learn previous lessons on ensuring the market works fairly and prices are capped so families don’t face a hefty and unpleasant bill for tests.’
Huw Merriman, chair of the Commons transport committee, tackled Mr Javid over the issue in the Commons, calling for ‘accurate, good value testing’.
He said problems seen this summer with ‘rip off’ prices and travellers not receiving swabs or results on time – if at all – must be avoided.
Mr Javid replied: ‘We do want to minimise impact on our excellent transport and travel sector and he’s right to raise the importance of making sure PCR tests are available, the pricing is correct and that the Government website where they’re listed is properly monitored so if anyone breaks the rules they are de-listed.’