That’s the question Which? are asking, and IE tends to agree. The idea that milions of us can start having holidays again doesn’t tally up with the patchy Covid testing regime that has produced thousands of false results every time someone has bothered to look closely at the logistics.
The government vaccine passport scheme also relies on the correct information being inputted by the NHS, an organisation that has a decades old history of admin cock-ups and IT problems. Add those two factors together, along with 100,000 annoyed people at airports around Britain in August and you begin to see the potential for a fiasco not seen since Airline was on the Gold TV channel.
Here are some valid points from Which?
Currently, anyone arriving in the UK (unless exempt) must quarantine for a mandatory 10 days and take a PCR test on day two and day eight of their quarantine. These tests typically cost between £160 and £200, but can cost over £500. Travellers must receive negative results for both tests to leave quarantine after day 10.
However, social media and review sites have been flooded with complaints about test result delays, with a Facebook group for people suffering problems with the system amassing around 1,500 members, and Which? has also heard from travellers who did not receive their test results within 10 days.
Without test results, travellers face having to pay hundreds of pounds for additional tests or stay in quarantine for longer than they need to, potentially causing problems for those who cannot work from home.
The consumer champion also understands that at present, only four private test providers out of more than 500 on the government’s list of providers have been accredited – Nationwide Pathology, Source Bioscience, Oncologica and Eurofins Forensic Services. Of those four, only Nationwide Pathology and Oncologica offer day two and day eight test kits, raising concerns about oversight of the test providers.
With mass travel set to resume next month, Which? is concerned that the travel test system – which is already struggling to handle demand when international travel is restricted – is at risk of being overwhelmed, and potentially collapsing when restrictions are lifted.
THE TEST RESULT IS IN THE POST, JUST STAY IN YOUR TRAVELODGE
While some providers have blamed delays with Royal Mail deliveries, Royal Mail told Which? there have been no reported delays in its network related to use of the company’s priority post boxes for managing travellers’ test results.
Oncologica, one of the largest laboratories that has partnered with many government-listed test providers, apologised on its website for delays and said there has been an “unprecedented increase in Covid testing enquiries and kit orders received since government travel rules were introduced”. Nationwide Pathology also apologised on its site for “large scale disruption to the delivery of both kits and samples”.
Despite travellers failing to receive their Covid test results on time, many have not been offered refunds. Both Oncologia and Nationwide Pathology said they did not guarantee test results within 10 days, with the latter claiming guidance from the Department of Health and Social Care means that it doesn’t have to provide refunds “where there’s no issue with the testing service”.
Under the proposed traffic light system, arrivals from ‘green’ countries must take day two tests, and those from ‘amber’ and ‘red’ countries must take day two and day eight tests, which will mean hundreds of thousands more people rely on the testing system.
Which? is urging the government to urgently address the problems currently affecting the PCR testing market with regard to availability of information, accreditation, pricing and accessibility of tests, as well as the poor quality of service by some providers. It must also ensure there are effective consumer protections in place for travellers in the event of any problems with testing, ahead of reopening travel after 17 May.
Rory Boland, Which? Travel Editor, said:
“The UK’s travel testing system can’t cope with demand, even when relatively small numbers of people are travelling. It’s clear the system could buckle under the pressure when mass international travel restarts and hundreds of thousands more people are reliant on it.
“Travellers shouldn’t have to shop around for something as crucial as a test provider – they simply need a service that is accessible, reliable, and delivered on time. It is critical that the Government addresses issues with testing ahead of restarting international travel, and ensure that travellers are not left to the mercy of poor quality providers or unreliable services when trying to do the right thing in following government requirements to travel safely.”
TRAVEL INSURANCE OPPORTUNITY
There is a huge opportunity here for travel insurers. Offer a product that is essentially the BUPA/Spire of overseas travel; rapid testing guaranteed, or you get a payout for any delays longer than 48 hours. Even if that product costs over £150 to buy, it seems cheap compared to the hassle and expense of compulsory quarantine and lost earnings, extra travel expenses home etc.
Build in NHS app data upload, vaccine batch number data template, GDPR consent, declaration on pre-existing conditions and away you go. Just saying.