Big Data

Lateral flow tests replacing PCRs: the mystery deepens

Vaccinated travellers arriving in the UK are no closer to knowing when they will be allowed to take a cheap, swift lateral flow test rather than a slow and expensive PCR.

The health secretary, Sajid Javid is quoted in today’s Department for Transport announcement as saying: “We’re now making it easier and cheaper for people to travel by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries to use lateral flow tests on day two of arrival, as long as they provide proof of use.”

Yet the government continues to give only “late October” as the target – “with the ambition remaining to have this in place for people returning from half-term breaks by the end of the month”.

Half-term in most schools in England and Wales ends over the weekend of 30 and 31 October, but some will be returning a week earlier.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “We desperately need to know the exact date so families can plan for the half term break.”

The government announcement also revealed that “proof of use” will be undemanding, with travellers able to send a picture of their lateral flow test result “as a minimum requirement to verify the test result”.

Leaks had suggested that travellers might have to video themselves swabbing in order to comply with the law.

Some health experts – and testing companies – have expressed concern that this means of verification is open to fraud, and about downgrading the test.

Professor Denis Kinane of Cignpost Diagnostics said: “This is a very big step down in protection against Covid, particularly against dangerous new variants.

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“We know that lateral flow tests are less accurate than the gold standard PCR tests so to rely on that alone seems unwise.”

Yet some travel industry figures question whether there is any point in the test at all.

Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “The government must now bring us into step with other countries by dropping day two testing requirements.”


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