PCR test: Do I still need one for travel?

SHOULD we stay or should we go has been the question on everyone's lips throughout the pandemic when it comes to foreign travel.

At the moment you need a PCR test if you want to go on holiday, but that could be scrapped in an announcement that is set to take place later today.

At the moment you have to take a test before you fly home.

Whether or not you need a test before you leave the UK depends on the country you are going to, so it's always important to check the rules and regulations or the country you are going to before you fly.

Some places still require a PCR test – while others will accept vaccination status.

The Polymerase Chain Reaction tests (PCR tests) are seen as the "gold standard" when it comes to testing and are different to the lateral flow tests available for free from the NHS.

You will have to pay for the PCR tests if you want to use them for travel with some places charging over £100.

You should not use the NHS testing service to test yourself before a holiday and the government has asked that you instead arrange a private test.

Lateral flow tests are set to replace expensive PCRs for returning holidaymakers – but travellers would still pay through the nose.

The swabs, only for double-jabbed arrivals, will cost about £30 as the free NHS kits will not be accepted.

Those taking the test will be supervised in person or virtually but the changes will save about £100 in testing costs per booking.

And they will not have to show a negative test at all if they return from a green list country.


On the High Street

High Street retailers such as Boots and Superdrug both offer PCR tests.

At Boots you can arrange a private test from £79.

You will typically get your results within 48 hours but if the test is inconclusive your fee will be refunded and you will then be given the option of paying to repeat the test.

Each tests comes with a "fit to fly certificate".

Superdrug also offers PCR tests with fit to fly packages and day two and day eight packages.

There are many other private clinics across the country which offer PCR test and the government lists them all here.

Airlines and holiday providers

If you're jetting off into the sun then some airlines are also offering their own PCR tests.

British Airways has endorsed four suppliers which it will also accept tests from.

These tests are available across the country and vary in price depending on which provider you choose.

Easy Jet, RyanAir, Tui, Virgin Atlantic and Hays Travel also offer a range of tests.

Traffic light list

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is today expected to announce the end of the traffic light system in favour of a go/no-go list.

And the red list that bans travel to 62 countries will be more than halved when all of the new measures kick in before half-term next month.

All current amber list countries could effectively become green – or 'go' destinations –while the number of red list, or 'no-go' countries, are set to be slashed in half.

It means some popular holiday spots, such as Turkey, Mexico and Tunisia, could be declared safe.

It's likely that unvaccinated travellers will still have to pay for a PCR test and face ten days of self-isolation even after today's announcement.

And it's understood they may have to quarantine on their return from all countries, even if they are on the 'go' list.

It's thought the hard-line rules for non-jabbed travllers could encourage holidaymakers to get the vaccine.

What are the differences between PCR and lateral flow tests?

NHS Test and Trace has made rapid lateral flow antigen testing available alongside standard lab-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests.

These tests play a different, but crucial role in the fight against the coronavirus in the UK.

The main differences between PCR and lateral flow Covid tests are:

  • The length of time for results
  • Accuracy and sensitivity to the coronavirus
  • One test is checked in a lab; the other gives an "on the spot" result

PCR tests

PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are the more thorough ‘swab’ tests offered to Brits for more than a year.

It is sent to a laboratory where a lab technician looks for genetic material of the virus using highly specialised equipment.

Results are given in up to five working days by text or a phone call.

The PCR tests are much better at finding very small amounts of the virus, especially early during an infection.

So these are used primarily in people who have Covid symptoms.

Lateral flow

Rapid testing (lateral flow testing) means results are available "on the spot" within just half an hour.

They work in a similar way to the most commonly known lateral flow rapid test strip – pregnancy tests.

A positive result is seen as a dark band or a fluorescent glow on the test strip, with a result in about 30 minutes.

The lateral flow Covid tests are mostly used by people who don’t have coronavirus symptoms (asymptomatic).

A Covid lateral flow test uses a swab from a patient's nose or throat to quickly determine if they are infected with the virus.

About one in three people who have Covid in the UK never show any symptoms – but that does not mean they are not infectious.

This type of test is very good at identifying people who have the virus and are infectious on the day.

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