Covid travel tests can cost more than five times the price of a return flight to Europe, it emerged last night.
It leaves families paying hundreds of pounds extra to go abroad this summer with MPs branding the expense ‘a rip-off’.
Ministers face increasing pressure to cap how much travellers pay for PCR tests and scrap VAT on them to stop would-be holidaymakers from being priced out of foreign breaks.
A study by MPs looked at the cost of trips to popular European destinations later this month and compared them with the average fee for a single PCR swab after getting back to Britain.
It found Ryanair was offering return flights from East Midlands airport to Barcelona and Exeter to Alicante for just £18 between August 24 and 27.
But the typical charge for a post-return PCR test among Government-approved providers is £93 – some five times as expensive. The swab is also almost four times as costly as a return flight from London Stansted to Madrid.
A study by MPs found Ryanair was offering return flights from East Midlands airport to Barcelona and Exeter to Alicante for just £18 between August 24 and 27. Pictured: a sign to a Covid-19 test centre at London’s Heathrow Airport on July 31
Ministers face increasing pressure to cap how much travellers pay for PCR tests and scrap VAT on them to stop would-be holidaymakers from being priced out of foreign breaks (pictured: terminal 5 departures at Heathrow Airport this month)
And for destinations such as Berlin, Budapest and Faro in the Algarve, the test is more than double the price of plane tickets.
The research only includes the cost of a single post-return PCR swab, which double-jabbed travellers must take by day two after returning from a green or amber country.
It does not include the pre-return swab all passengers must take before boarding UK-bound planes, meaning testing bills as a proportion of flight costs can be even greater. Non-fully vaccinated holidaymakers also face much larger bills as they are required to take two post-return PCR swabs on days two and eight.
The Daily Mail has championed calls for the Government to drive down costs.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the all-party Future of Aviation Group, which conducted the study, said: ‘These figures demonstrate that testing for international travel has become little more than a tax on travel, adding a huge disincentive to travel.
‘When the cost of testing can be more than the price of a ticket, it is clear that the current system is not fit for purpose and needs urgent reform to stop the rip-off fees we are currently seeing.’
French police officers control customers’ health passes at a bar in Paris on August 9. The UK Government has repeatedly said it is working with the travel industry and testing providers to see how to ‘further reduce the cost of travel for the public’
A worker who came to empty an overflowing Randox drop off box in Warwick. Randox is a company doing PRC tests for people wishing to travel but many of these drop off points have been rammed with people’s test kits
He said travellers should be allowed to take much cheaper rapid lateral flow tests on return followed by a ‘gold standard’ PCR only if this is positive.
He added: ‘Alongside this, ministers must urgently consider a cap on the total cost of testing. It is high time that the Government got to grips with this issue.’ Sir Graham Brady MP, chairman of the Tory backbench 1922 Committee, said: ‘The number of tests required and their exorbitant prices in the UK risk making foreign holidays the preserve of the well off.
‘This is plainly unfair to families on average incomes and risks destroying our very successful travel industry. This problem should be tackled as a matter of urgency.’
The study found a post-return PCR test can also cost more than return flights to Nice in southern France, Malta, Gibraltar and the Balearic island of Menorca, doubling the cost of a trip even for fully vaccinated individuals.
Carrier easyJet is offering return flights to Mahon in Menorca for £61 later this month, making the average cost of a test nearly 50 per cent more than the flights. British Airways is offering return flights from Heathrow to Paris for £100, making the typical post-return testing bill almost as expensive as the flights.
Ministers insist arrivals must take pricier PCR tests as they are considered more accurate and can be ‘sequenced’ for mutant Covid strains. But NHS Test and Trace figures show just 5 per cent of swabs are being sequenced. Greece and Italy have capped the price of PCR tests, while in France they are free for citizens. Some European countries have also axed VAT on testing kits.
The Government has repeatedly said it is working with the travel industry and testing providers to see how to ‘further reduce the cost of travel for the public’. Health secretary Sajid Javid has asked the Competition and Markets Authority watchdog to investigate whether travellers are being ripped off by testing firms.
But Labour MP Ben Bradshaw, who sits on the Commons transport committee, said: ‘While the rest of Europe is enjoying a relatively normal summer on the beach, for many British families the cost of the tests and the confusing and chaotic traffic light system is putting the dream of a foreign holiday out of reach.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘We are clear that all private providers must meet a set of required standards and each provider is held to account by the independent United Kingdom Accreditation Service, with companies that fail to meet high standards being removed from the list of approved suppliers.’
The great travel test farce! Swab boxes left overflowing
By David Churchill and Josh White for the Daily Mail
Britain’s travel testing system was branded an ‘absolute mess’ yesterday after uncollected swabs were left piled high outside pharmacies.
Pictures posted online showed three drop-off boxes run by Randox, the UK’s largest PCR testing provider, overflowing with swabs.
It meant outraged customers were forced to choose between adding to the pile – risking their personal details being stolen by thieves – or shell out for a private courier.
Yesterday’s images have fuelled fears that the testing system will be unable to cope if too many Britons go abroad during the school holidays.
Piled high: A Randox drop-off bin in London filled with uncollected PCR tests, showing the demand in the currently privately-run holiday testing system
Ditch traffic light system, says former vaccine boss
The current traffic light system for international travel is too complicated and should be ditched, the former head of the Government’s vaccine taskforce has said.
Clive Dix said the current four categories – green, green watchlist, amber and red – should be replaced with just red and green.
He said that high levels of vaccination in the UK and other countries meant only those destinations with low jab uptake and without widespread testing should be on the red list, with quarantining required. All other countries should be green, needing only a test on return.
‘We don’t really know what the viral variants are [in those countries],’ he told the Daily Telegraph. ‘The rest, we’re pretty sure what’s there. I think there’s no difference between moving around there and us moving around within the UK.’
All travellers returning from green and amber list countries must take a test by day two after arriving back in the UK. Those who have not been fully-vaccinated must also take a test on day eight. Some countries also require a pre-holiday test to show on arrival.
It means that, were any of these types of tests left uncollected, potential burglars could work out when people were away and their homes empty.
Gavin Williams, 51, from Southfields in south-west London, said he travelled 30 minutes to the nearest Randox drop-off bin to deliver his daughter’s day two PCR test. But when he arrived, it was filled to the brim and overflowing.
Posting a picture to Twitter, the teaching assistant, who paid £43 for the tests, said he felt ‘ripped off’.
Replying with a picture of another drop-off bin with uncollected tests piled 20 boxes high, Tilly Slight posted: ‘You think that one’s bad?’
The pictures have sparked fury among travel experts, with Paul Charles, CEO of consultancy The PC Agency, saying they were ‘a symbol of the absolute mess that PCR testing has become’.
And Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said the watchdog had repeatedly warned the testing system would be unable to cope with too many people travelling abroad.
‘It’s particularly frustrating as Which? raised this with the Government a few months ago,’ he said. ‘The system isn’t set up for large numbers of people travelling. Now many people are travelling, the system is not working properly.’
Randox is among more than 400 private testing firms on the Government-approved list of providers.
According to the Government’s website, the firm charges £43 for a ‘self swab at home’ day two test. The cost for a days two and eight package is £86.
The latest controversy comes a year after Randox sent out hundreds of thousands of unsterile tests to care homes.
As a result, it was forced to recall 750,000 unused kits.
Despite this, the company was awarded a new £347million Government contract and is capable of processing around 500,000 swabs a day.
A spokesman for Randox said the firm was increasing the number of drop boxes across the UK as well as the frequency of test collections.
‘All of the sample kits pictured will be processed,’ the spokesman added.