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PCR swabs must be made free to avoid holidaymakers being ripped off, the head of the backbench Tory group has said, as test firms started to hike prices.
Ministers faced a backlash from Tory MPs and the travel industry over the requirement for all passengers arriving in the UK from 4am on Tuesday to take a test on or before day two and quarantine until they get a negative result.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, said ministers should intervene to underwrite the costs and prevent a repeat of the rip-offs, delays and scams that plagued PCR testing in the summer.
“The Government has again plunged the travel and aviation sector into a period of uncertainty and added costs and inconvenience for travellers,” he said.
“To maintain these restrictions for what I hope will be a very brief period, the Government should at least ensure that the PCR tests that are being required for returning passengers are provided at no extra cost to the passenger.”
PCR tests jump in cost within hours of new regime
His comments came as the average cost of a single PCR swab jumped five per cent within hours of the Government announcing the new testing regime, which allows scientists to track whether the new Covid variant omicron is entering the UK.
Prices rose from an average of £79 to £83 among more than 450 test providers on the Government’s website. For a family of five, this would add more than £400 to the cost of a trip abroad. It compares with rapid lateral flow tests, which are typically between £20 and £25, adding up to £125.
It comes on top of the disclosure that thousands of travellers to Britain who ordered day two lateral flow tests in line with the Government’s previous rules will not get their money back - as well as being hit with more expensive PCR tests.
"All self-test kits are non-refundable from the point of booking due to immediate dispatch and the medical nature of the product," said Collinson, one of the major test providers.
Henry Smith, Tory chairman of the all party Future of Aviation group, said that “ideally” the Government should ensure PCR tests were free.
However, he said at the very least “their costs should be capped to the same rate as lateral flow tests. That would help”.
‘Huge hardship’ on travellers
Willie Walsh - the former boss of British Airway’s parent company, International Airlines Group, and now boss of The International Air Transport Association, representing airlines internationally - said the reintroduction of tighter quarantine and testing regulations was a “knee-jerk decision” that imposed “huge hardship” on travellers.
“It's clear that these measures have been completely ineffective in the past but impose huge hardship on people who are trying to connect with families and friends, and clearly massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry,” he said.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said the Government’s decision left travellers in the invidious position of having less than 48 hours to arrange extra testing whilst overseas. “Many will struggle to do so, which is why support from Government would be an appropriate gesture,” he added.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy the PC Agency, said: “One of the best things the Government could do is remove VAT on PCR tests to make it less costly for people to travel.”
Passengers who do postal tests face a wait of up to three days for results. Government guidance says that if travellers' test results are delayed, they must stay in self-isolation until they receive them or until two weeks after arrival - whichever is sooner.
Anyone with a positive result must self-isolate at home for 10 days. The new rules relate to people who are fully vaccinated.