Free lateral flow Covid tests may not be approved for green list countries

Concerns have been raised about validating lateral flow test results and their accuracy (Photo: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)
Concerns have been raised about validating lateral flow test results and their accuracy (Photo: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)
Concerns have been raised about validating lateral flow test results and their accuracy (Photo: Kim Mogg / JPIMedia)

Travellers hoping to escape to one of the green list countries may not be able to use free lateral flow Covid tests due to concerns over their effectiveness.

The tests, which provide results within 30 minutes, may not be approved when the travel list comes into effect in England on 17 May, the Telegraph reports.

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Concerns over accuracy

Holidaymakers returning to the UK from green list countries, which include Portugal, Gibraltar and Israel, are required to take a coronavirus test at least 72 hours before departure.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had previously proposed giving travellers free lateral flow tests to pack in their suitcase for the return journey to help reduce holiday costs.

However, the Daily Telegraph reports that the free testing kits may not be approved for use from 17 May after a failure to reach “cross-Government agreement” on the scheme.

The news comes amid concerns about validating the test results, which are self-administered by travellers, as well as their accuracy.

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The lateral flow tests are not as accurate as their more costly Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) counterparts, which require samples to be sent off to a laboratory for testing and take up to five days for results to be returned.

PCR tests would add significant costs to a holiday abroad, with tests typically priced at around £100 each, although some airlines are offering them slightly cheaper.

The NHS lateral flow tests fall below the 80 per cent threshold of accuracy, according to Public Health England (PHE) and Oxford University.

A source is reported to have said: “It is more about the implementation than the science.

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“How do you check the results? How do you validate them? Do people just turn up and show them?”

A spokesman for the Department of Transport said it was “working with the travel industry and private testing providers ahead of international travel reopening, to see how we can further reduce the cost of travel for the British public, while ensuring travel is as safe as possible."

Official government guidance states that pre-departure Covid tests can be a PCR or lateral flow test.

It adds: "It’s your responsibility to ensure the test meets the minimum standards for sensitivity, specificity and viral load details.

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“You must check with your test provider that it meets those standards."

Which countries are on the ‘green list’?

Mr Shapps announced which countries will be opened up for international travel this summer on Friday (7 May), with only 12 destinations making the ‘green list’.

People in England will be able to travel to the following places from 17 May without having to quarantine upon return:

  • Portugal
  • Israel
  • Singapore
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Brunei
  • Iceland
  • Gibraltar
  • Falkland Islands
  • Faroe Islands
  • South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
  • St Helena, Tristan de Cunha, Ascension Island.

The list will be reviewed by the government every three weeks.

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Some green list countries will continue to have restrictions in place for those coming from the UK – including quarantine measures – so travellers are encouraged to check all requirements and FCDO travel advice before they book any foreign holidays.

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