The ‘struggling’ Covid testing system is putting foreign holidays at risk as labs are already pushed to the limit – with ‘carnage’ expected as the green list grows.
Those looking to enjoy a summer holiday abroad this year should book a package trip with a test included to protect themselves from paying through the nose if pre-booked private test results get lost, consumer watchdog Which? advised.
Millions of British families are facing crippling bills and risk being priced out of foreign summer holidays or reunions with loved ones due to exorbitant private testing costs.
Tests are required to travel abroad under the ‘traffic light’ quarantine system – which sees countries categorised into red, amber and green lists based on travellers’ risk of importing cases.
And the list of countries on the green list – countries deemed the safest to visit – is set to grow before the end of June.
Covid testing ‘carnage’ is putting foreign holidays at risk as labs are already pushed to the limit, a consumer watchdog has warned. Pictured: Heathrow Airport last month
Those looking to enjoy a summer holiday abroad this year should book a package trip with a test included to protect themselves from paying through-the-nose if pre-booked private test results get lost, Which? advised. Pictured: Heathrow Airport last month
Tests are required to travel abroad under the ‘traffic light’ quarantine system – which sees countries categorised into red, amber and green lists based on travellers’ risk of importing cases
Britain is warmer today than ten out of the 12 countries on the Government’s green list of destinations for foreign travel
Arrivals from green nations – such as Australia, New Zealand and Gibraltar – need to take a Covid test before flying into the UK and a second test on or before the second day after they land.
Those arriving from amber countries need to quarantine at home for ten days and take a test on or before day two and on or after day eight – as well as prior to flying.
The current private testing system is ‘struggling’ and will be ‘carnage’ when travel starts up again, consumer watchdog Which? said.
Covid e-gates at four major airports ‘will be ready later this month’
Covid e-gates to speed up lengthy border force queues post-lockdown will be ready this month.
As it stands, Border Force officers have to conduct manual checks of all arrivals’ passports and passenger locator forms causing long queues in UK terminals.
And, with the green list of countries deemed safe to travel to set to expand this month, lines could get worse.
But automated gates are hoped to be a faster solution, allowing people to move through the queue quicker.
An airport source told The Daily Telegraph: ‘We are down to be completed at Heathrow at the end of June or beginning of July.
‘We believe June 28 will be a more significant opening of foreign travel than June 7.’
Travel editor Rory Boland told The Times: ‘The best-case scenario is that you’ve booked a package holiday and the test is booked with the tour operator.
‘That way if you don’t get the result back they will allow you to move the departure. But that’s not a given and will be no consolation to people who have fixed dates. The private testing system is already struggling, it will be carnage when people start travelling again.’
Campaigners are calling for the cost of private tests to be capped by the Government.
As it stands, a day two testing service for green list arrivals can cost up to £399, while amber packages can cost upwards of £378.
Britons are keen to go abroad after more than a year with limited travel – even though the summer will bring a scorcher back home.
The country is set to enjoy its hottest day of the year so far for the third day in a row as temperatures soar to 84F (29C) – making the UK warmer than ten out of the 12 countries on the Government’s green list of destinations.
The very hot conditions over the past week have led to packed beaches, parks and beer gardens across the UK, with today being the seventh day in a row that the mercury will be above 70F (21C) somewhere.
And it means the UK is now warmer than most of the countries Britons can visit without having to quarantine upon their return – including Portugal (68F/20C in Lisbon), Gibraltar (77F/25C) and Israel (also 77F/25C, in Jerusalem).
Britain is also hotter than St Helena (70F/21C in Jamestown), Australia (63F/17C in Canberra) and New Zealand (57F/14C in Wellington), as well as Iceland (50F/10C), the Faroe Islands (50F/10C) and Falkland Islands (37F/3C).
Yesterday, Malta became the latest European country to open its doors to British holidaymakers as the EU raised the prospect of easier travel to the continent from next month.
The sun-drenched Mediterranean island – currently on the UK’s amber list – will allow in UK visitors who pass a PCR test before travelling as it seeks to rebuild its tourism industry. In future it plans to accept vaccine passports.
Last week, the boss of Heathrow Airport urged the government to reveal its green list.
John Holland-Kaye warned that keeping the list of safe destinations for July and August under wraps would lead to operators scaling back on scheduled flights which would lead to a huge rise in seat prices.
He pointed to popular destinations such as Spain and its Balearic islands where Covid infections are low, suggesting they were ‘coming into the green zone’ but may not be announced for weeks.
There are only 12 locations that have so far been added to the green list, but Portugal, Gibraltar and Iceland are seen as actual holiday destinations.
There is set to be an expansion of the list on June 7, with Jamaica, Finland, and the Canary Islands seen as possibilities, although Boris Johnson has warned that the list will not expand ‘very rapidly’.
Rishi Sunak last night faced a growing clamour to scrap the VAT ‘stealth tax’ on Covid travel tests.
MPs, campaigners and travel chiefs all urged the Chancellor to immediately axe the levy, which adds 20 per cent to what is already described as a ‘rip-off’ fee.
Critics said the tax was not only pricing ordinary families out of foreign holidays, but also damaging the economy by stifling the rebound of the UK’s beleaguered travel industry.
MPs, campaigners and travel chiefs all urged the Chancellor to immediately axe the levy, which adds 20 per cent to what is already described as a ‘rip-off’ fee. Pictured: Ross Lovelock and his wife who have forked out £396 for tests that never happened
Yesterday, the Daily Mail launched a campaign calling on ministers to deliver on their pledge to reduce the price of travel testing in time for peak summer holiday season.
Many have complained that the exorbitant cost of Covid testing can add hundreds of pounds to the price of the average family holiday.
As a starting point, the travel industry is demanding that the Treasury scrap VAT on the tests.
Last night, there was growing fury at the Treasury’s refusal to act.
Officials have claimed that they could not scrap the levy on testing without having to raise taxes elsewhere. Critics immediately pointed out that ministers could not possibly be relying on revenues from the tax because it has only started bringing in money in the past few months.
Meanwhile, ministers were unable to point to any progress they had made on the Government’s pledge to cut costs yesterday.
Earlier this month, 17 Tory MPs wrote to the Chancellor to call for a VAT cut for tests.
Yesterday, they repeated their demands as they criticised the ‘counter-productive’ system that was making flights the ‘preserve of the rich’.
Pictured: Konrad Tapp and his wife Carol who are now unable to visit their new grandchild
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation group of MPs and a signatory to the letter, said: ‘They know that aviation is a major economic enabler that will be central to our economic recovery so it is counter-productive to allow our sky-high testing costs to remain a barrier to international travel.’
Ex-minister David Davis said: ‘The Government should do everything it can to incentivise people to liberalise the economy. They should certainly look at scrapping VAT as a way of mitigating the costs of the restrictions they’ve put on people, and a way of making things safer.’
Sir Graham Brady, lead author of the letter and chairman of the Tory backbench committee, lent his support to the Mail’s campaign, adding: ‘As we approach the summer holidays, it must be a priority to ensure that travel does not become the preserve of the rich.’
Several travel chiefs also intervened. Heathrow Airport chief John Holland-Kaye said: ‘The Daily Mail’s campaign for cheaper Covid tests is exactly the type of thing the aviation and tourism industry needs.
‘A lot of progress to reduce the cost of Covid tests has already been made by industry, and now it’s time for ministers to step up and do their part.’
He called for VAT to be scrapped and for the use of lateral flow tests for arrivals from low risk countries, instead of the more expensive PCR tests.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of trade body Airlines UK, said: ‘This is not a revenue line that has been on the Treasury scorecard for years and years, it’s a classic stealth tax that has been imposed since Covid hit.’
A Government spokesman said officials were working with the travel industry and private testing providers to see how they can further reduce the cost of travel.
Over this weekend, it emerged that a strain of the virus appearing to be a hybrid of the UK and Indian variants, both of which are fast-spreading, has appeared in Vietnam – which is still not on the red list.
The red list was drawn up to slash the risk of Britain importing new variants of the virus that could risk vaccines not working.
There was uproar among scientists and politicians when it took weeks for India to be added despite it having the world’s worst outbreak – and a variant that emerged there is now dominant in the UK and threatens to wreck plans to end lockdown.
Despite this and the revelation that a new variant has sprung up in Vietnam, the country remains on the amber list, which means hotel quarantine isn’t required.
The variant is not yet internationally recognised so it is unknown whether it has spread to other countries.
HOW TESTS CAN COST TRAVELLERS MORE THAN THEIR TRIPS
CUT-PRICE – but still £665
Karen Beddow faced spending £1,200 on Covid tests to travel to Portugal with her husband Matthew and their three daughters.
She managed to get the cost down to £665 – but only after a day’s research and drawing on her expertise as a travel blogger. It is still a 26 per cent premium on the cost of the family’s £2,500 half-term trip to stay in a villa near Lagos in the Algarve.
It would have been even more expensive if her children were not exempt from the lateral flow tests travellers need to take before they fly home as they are under 11.
Mrs Beddow, 43, from The Wirral, Cheshire, said: ‘It’s absolutely crazy.’
Mrs Beddow and her husband, a 47-year-old property developer, managed to cut the costs by finding a £99 buy-an-adult-test-get-a-child-test-free deal for the UK tests, meaning they had to buy only three.
Both adults need a lateral flow test in Portugal. One firm offered to supply the certificates after verifying the tests in a video call for £39 each. Further PCR tests for the family on day two of their return to the UK will cost £58 each, or £290 in total.
Mrs Beddow, who runs a travel blog at minitravellers.co.uk, said many families who had postponed holidays to Portugal that were cancelled last year due to the pandemic were now having to pay for the tests. ‘They can’t cancel because it’s now on the green list, so they’ll find themselves with significantly higher costs,’ she added.
WE’D RATHER STAY IN THE UK
A project manager has cancelled his family’s dream holiday to the Greek island of Kos because of the £450 cost of getting coronavirus tests.
Aaron Entwistle, 45, paid £3,170 for an all-inclusive seven-night vacation starting on July 24. He booked the trip in June last year – before widespread Covid testing had been introduced for holidays.
But earlier this month he discovered that he would have to pay £450 for PCR tests for himself, his fiancée Tamzin Halpin, 35, and his 12-year-old daughter Briana.
Alarmed by the extra cost, Mr Entwistle, from Stafford in Staffordshire, decided to cancel it. He had to pay a £600 cancellation fee, but said this was preferable than seeing the cost of the holiday soar to £3,620.
Instead, he is taking his family on a £1,200 campervan holiday to the Peak District.
TESTS COST MORE THAN FLIGHT
Manchester United fan Harriet Butcher was forced to spend £300 on Covid tests so she could travel to Poland to watch her team in the Europa League final last week.
The public affairs manager, 26, ended up spending more on the tests than she did on the trip. Miss Butcher said: ‘I was in Poland for less than 24 hours and the trip alone only cost around £200. It was very frustrating to have to pay so much.’