Holiday meant playing Covid test roulette, it’s time it stopped

Going on holiday last summer meant quarantine roulette as countries were dramatically added or removed from the naughty list for Brits returning home.

As if that wasn’t fun enough, a new level was added to the game in the summer of 2021: Covid test roulette, which it looks like the government is about to simplify today.

When the commotion comes, it would be wise to focus on what we want from testing because the system where people should be tested but can’t take advantage of the plethora of free NHS testing we have in the UK is bizarre seems.

Sadly, any move will be too late for the families who paid hundreds of pounds for tests to go on vacation over the summer, but it wasn’t just the financial cost that was the problem, it was figuring out what you needed and who you could get. to trust.

Summer travel meant playing a game of Covid test roulette as holidaymakers tried to figure out what they needed and which provider to rely on

The game went like this: could you work your way through the maze of testing requirements for different countries when returning to the UK, get the right ones before you leave, find out if your kids need them, and choose a provider that will actually give you your certificates when you need them?

Did you need a PCR or lateral flow to get out of the country, could you pick the right test, get the result on time, avoid getting ripped off, get the right test to come back, then had a day 2 and a PCR on day 8 and a test on day 5 to release one?

These all fun questions you might be frantically asking yourself, browsing endless web pages from Gov.uk and abroad, sifting through the testing providers and mentally thinking how much this is going to cost, wondering where you’re slipping

This came alongside Quarantine Roulette, which arrived this year with colour-coded levels – for added entertainment, these can change or a brand new one can be invented – and the ultimate booby prize of ten nights in a quarantine hotel.

That it actually got harder this year to escape Britain’s dreary summer for some European sunshine is somewhat depressing, as no vaccines had been invented by this time last year, while now nearly 80 percent of the adult population is both infected with the virus. had shots.

But I suppose it’s understandable in a way. Last year around this time many thought we were out of the woods and we weren’t, we now know more about variants, and the memory of the brutal second wave and the harsh January lockdown is fresh in people’s minds.

A trip to Portugal with an amber frame for a family of four with two adults with double shot requiring lateral flow tests to leave and come back for the adults and PCRs around on day 2 at home

A trip to Portugal with an amber frame for a family of four with two adults with double shot requiring lateral flow tests to leave and come back for the adults and PCRs around on day 2 at home

What’s annoying is that the government delivered another piece of confusing public policy and then stepped back for private companies to wander in and wash people off.

We are repeatedly told that Britain has one of the best Covid testing capabilities in the world. And that seems to be true: Unlike the early days of the pandemic, today it is very easy to get tested for coronavirus.

Many of us have boxes of free lateral flow tests that the government issues and it’s easy to get a PCR test.

The result of a lateral flow test is almost instantaneous and the NHS will usually get your PCR test result back within a day or so.

But despite this plethora of testing options, you are not allowed to use NHS testing to travel.

If you rock at the airport in the UK with an NHS text or test result in your app the airline has been told not to let you fly, and when you get back to the country you must have booked at least a day 2 PCR test beforehand with a private provider.

A large number of private companies have stepped into the breach: some offer very good service and others do not; some charge reasonable and some charge highly inflated prices.

And it’s up to you not only to make a small fortune on tests – hoping you’ve read the rules correctly – but to find out which of these providers you can trust.

Amber list testing and travel: what is involved?

Portugal is on the orange list, for which the UK’s return requirements are the same for each country.

However, individual countries may have different requirements for Britons to fly there.

In our case it was a lateral flow test no more than 48 hours before arriving in Portugal.

On return we required a lateral flow test no more than 72 hours before landing in the UK and then a day 2 PCR.

So, how did it all work? We booked the tests on Qured’s website where there was a menu with Fit to Fly, Return to Fly and PCR tests on a different day.

The lateral flow testing to fly to Portugal and back to the UK for my wife required us to make a video appointment where we were connected with one of the company representatives who saw us do the test and then gave us the time, date and a reference number on the test cassette.

Then 15 minutes later we had to send a picture of it next to our passports.

We heaved a sigh of relief when our tests came back negative and another when we got fit-to-fly certificates confirming this a few hours later.

Overall it was a relatively simple and good service.

On day 2 after we got home, our PCR tests arrived and all four of us did one. They were returned on a Friday and by Tuesday afternoon two of us had the results, but the other two didn’t get them until Wednesday.

You do not need to isolate while waiting for the PCR results. (And I did have a lateral flow test at work the day after I got back.)

To fly, we also needed proof of our dual vaccination status and had to fill out passenger locator forms online for both Portugal and the UK.

The British needed a reference number as proof that we had booked day 2 PCR testing.

Documents were checked by the easyJet check-in staff – we checked in a suitcase, so that was done at the counter – and at Portuguese passport control.

We flew from Luton to Faro and back and as we had a bag checked in and our children’s ages mean we can’t use epassport gates the queues, waiting and hassle wasn’t noticeably worse than usual – but we flew on a Sunday and back on Wednesday.

There have been some horror stories about queues and red tape during the summer holidays. We lucked out and avoided it but I imagine for travel outside of school holidays the hassle should hopefully be kept to a minimum.

As a personal example, I decided to flee the country for a family vacation in Portugal.

Both my wife and I were double stung so we didn’t have to quarantine for five days when we reached Portugal and our two kids are young enough not to do that very well (this quarantine rule has been lifted since we left).

However, we did require a PCR or lateral flow test before going, within 72 or 48 hours, respectively. We wouldn’t need this if we had a digital Covid vaccination certificate from the EU, but for some reason the UK and EU can’t make a reciprocal arrangement between our app and theirs.

Since Portugal is on the orange list, both adults (but not the children under ten) were required to have a PCR or lateral flow test no more than 72 hours before flying back to the UK.

We didn’t have to go into quarantine or do a day 8 or day 5 test to release the test because we got double jabs, but all four of us had to do a day 2 PCR test which has to be booked before arriving at the UK .

Still, in anticipation of this and the result, we were able to roam freely.

Even now that we’ve covered the travel situation and the commute in depth on This is Money, figuring out what to do was a real headache.

The next step was to find a provider that doesn’t overcharge, but also seems to offer a quality service. After all, this is not the place for fake economies.

My research led me to a company called Qured: they do the pre-departure lateral flow tests we need in the UK and Portugal with video verification appointments for £39 each and day 2 PCR tests for £69 each.

Those costs are on the reasonable end of the market, but not the absolute cheapest. However, cheap is not always best.

To find out more, I spoke to Alex Templeton, the boss of Qured, who explained that the costs come from the service it provides: ranging from delivering tests to reach people on time, to the online appointments, customer service , a commitment to help if something goes wrong, and the lab costs associated with PCR testing.

That all sounds pretty reasonable, what is annoying to a lot of people is that the government has created a situation where people have to pay for all this while free testing is plentiful in the UK.

I had to do covid testing this summer for two other things: going to matches at Euro 2020 and going to a festival called Standon Calling.

You can use the free NHS tests for both. The former was a bit of a fairness box system, you did a lateral flow test and recorded whether you were negative or positive on the NHS app, the latter was a free test but was videotaped live and a picture of the result submitted – it costs 4 euros each.

Perhaps if you want to go on holiday there is an argument that you should pay for a test, but that is dramatically undermined by the scenes we saw this summer with some private tests disappointing people and the wide range of charging options.

Because if it’s a good idea to test people for public health reasons, then you should definitely take advantage of your supposedly world-class testing capabilities instead of shoving them into an expensive and confusing private system.

Unless, of course, the real purpose of the game was to use a touch of heavy duty nudge theory to push people away from going on vacation.

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