- The test for my family of four to travel from the UK to Spain cost £ 550, or $ 762.
- There is no reason for testing to be so expensive, especially when there are free at-home tests.
- Private companies are raising prices, making overseas travel beyond the reach of many.
- Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is a UK-based freelance writer, journalist and editor.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
PCR testing has become a multibillion dollar industry, and the UK is the second most expensive place for COVID travel testing, behind only the United States. With exorbitant prices for PCR tests, holidays abroad have been banned for many British families this year, making overseas travel a luxury for the well-to-do.
Determined to visit our old dilapidated farmhouse in the Andalusian mountains in Spain where myself, my husband and our two boys lived for almost a decade, we had no choice but to pay the exorbitant expenses of the tests travel COVID.
Mandatory testing amounted to an additional £ 550 ($ 762) on top of the cost of the holiday, and the sum would have been considerably higher had me and my husband not been fully immunized. The Spanish government requires all arrivals to Spain from Great Britain must present a negative PCR test carried out within 72 days of arrival, or proof of full vaccination – our unvaccinated teenage sons had to undergo a PCR test before leaving the UK- Uni priced at £ 70 ($ 97) each.
The majority of the COVID testing budget has been spent on returning to Britain, where a mandatory second-day test administered by Randox – hailed as the UK’s Largest COVID-19 PCR Testing Provider – cost us £ 240 ($ 332).
This was in addition to the 160 euros we had to pay a few days earlier to acquire a negative COVID antigen test certificate in order to leave Spain. This nasal swab test, like the rapid test ‘self-tests’ which are supplied free of charge for home use in Great Britain, do not have to be sent to a laboratory and provide results within 30 minutes. The tests were administered by a doctor at a private clinic in our local Spanish town.
On some level, some may argue that charging for COVID testing for travel is not unreasonable. If people choose to travel abroad during these precarious times, they should be billed accordingly and should keep the additional cost of PCR testing in mind before booking their vacations – a “you made your bed, now” attitude. lie down”.
However, rather than simply being a matter of choice that comes with an additional financial burden, the excessive COVID travel costs symbolize escalating inequalities in the wake of the pandemic. As many private companies take advantage of a COVID windfall, making huge profits on testing, the less wealthy are forced to forgo vacations abroad as travel becomes something only the rich can afford.
“Cheaper” tests are not available
Others who have taken the plunge and traveled overseas this summer cite similar grievances about the cost of the tests. Paula Kowalska recently returned from a trip to an “orange” country – a nation sandwiched between “safe” green countries that require no quarantine regardless of their immunization status and “high risk” red countries in the world. UK government traffic light system. Kowalska said she was shocked to find that the tests she bought less than a month ago for £ 35 were no longer available, being replaced by those costing £ 60-70.
“The government website advises the availability of £ 20 tests. However, these are so limited that they are never available or are available by appointment only in some places, with only 4 or 5 slots per day. “she told me.
And yet COVID testing for travel in some countries is significantly cheaper and in some cases free, indicating that there are bigger issues at stake.
A friend of mine, who has dual Czech and British nationality, recently returned to Britain from the Czech Republic. The COVID test she had to take before leaving the Czech Republic and returning to Britain was offered free of charge since she was a Czech citizen.
Some countries even use COVID testing for travel as a political tool. France has offered free COVID tests to tourists. However, since July 7, 2021, the French government has decided to charge tourists for the tests, declaring it was a matter of “reciprocity”, since French tourists are required to pay for tests abroad. When they want, countries can and do provide free COVID testing for travelers, so what’s the deal in the UK?
To shed some light on the controversial cost of COVID testing for travel, I spoke to Hussain Abdeh, director of Medicine Direct, a UK-based online pharmacy.
Abdeh explained how any medical product sold in the UK must meet certain regulatory standards.
“Simply put, all PCR tests available in the UK meet the same standards of precision, regardless of the price they are sold,” Abdeh said.
He explained the possible origins of the price differences, saying it could be due to different manufacturing costs or wholesale costs. But that’s problematic given that, as Abdeh pointed out to me, we would typically see bigger brands like Boots and Lloyds offering the cheapest prices, due to their buying power and discounts. However, this is not the case with PCR testing, as Boots appears to be one of the Very expensive in the UK market, currently at £ 79.
“However, that said, the UK does allow travel from some countries that offer free PCR testing service, such as Germany and Italy. It tells me that the free PCR testing services offered by these countries also meet the standards of the PCR tests that have been implemented in the UK, ”Abdeh told me.
The cost inconsistency suggests that a profit incentive is at play.
Britain’s “travel test” program has raised concerns about Conservative cronyism – Conservative Party officials awarding contracts to donors and relations so they can profit from the crisis.
Some of the private companies that operate the PCR travel testing market, such as the Northern Ireland-based company Randox, have links with members of the British Conservative Party. In April, Randox proudly affirmed he “was supporting UK holidaymakers by reducing the cost of PCR testing to support travel to £ 60 per test” – proving once again that testing costs don’t need to be as high as they are .
In November 2020, without any competition, the British government rewarded Randox, whose test kits were recalled in the summer of 2020 over contamination concerns, a £ 347million COVID testing contract.
Despite receiving almost half a billion pounds of taxpayer money, Randox continues to privately charge citizens from £ 86 for travel home test kit consisting of a pre-departure PCR test, a second day PCR test and a travel certificate.
New rules confirm prices don’t have to be that high
When I contacted the Department of Health and Social Affairs for comment on the cost of COVID travel tests, they said:
“Protecting the public has always been our top priority and the robust border and testing regime we have in place helps to minimize the risk of new variants entering the UK.
We are vetting all private providers to make sure they meet our strict standards and over 80 private travel testing companies have been warned of two inaccurate price warnings and are at risk of being removed from gov.uk s list ‘they do it again. “
September 17th a major update on the rules for international travel to England was announced. New, lighter testing requirements are being introduced as the government looks to give the struggling travel industry a boost before state support ends this month. The overhaul means that from October 4, people who have had two jabs will no longer need to take a COVID test before entering England. Later in October, the day two PCR tests can be replaced with cheaper lateral flow tests.
For me, the removal of costly testing requirements and complicated travel arrangements, after months of outrage from the tourism industry and travelers, is further proof of the profitability of travel testing that has been going on for months. .
It’s not like the changes are being made because of the virus’ dwindling. On the contrary, studies show that for a few weeks now, there has been a worrying decline in immunity as confirmed cases rise.
Choose expensive scrap testing after the summer vacation rush, like doctors warn that the country is heading for a winter “at daggers drawn” for the NHS, shows that testing was fundamentally used as a means of profit from the start.
And, for families who have had to forgo vacations this year due to unachievable additional costs, the costs are a stark example of the new societal inequalities created by the policy response to the pandemic.