Tui will offer coronavirus tests for a fraction of standard prices to ‘make travel a possibility’ once restrictions are lifted on May 17.
The UK’s largest holiday company said its cheapest package – made up of a lateral flow test and PCR test – will be available for just £20.
The tests will be requirements for people returning to or visiting England from green list destinations under the Government’s traffic light system for international travel from May 17.
Passengers from green list countries – expected to include Malta, Jamaica and Portugal – must get a lateral flow or PCR test no more than 72 hours before flying into the UK. They must also get a PCR test once they have landed.
The Government is set to provide free rapid Covid test kits to those travelling abroad so they can avoid the hassle of finding one before they returned, Whitehall sources claimed.
But arrivals would still have to pay at least £50 each for the gold-standard PCR test on landing.
The package from TUI would cover both tests.
A £50 package from TUI contains an additional PCR test – which will be needed for those travelling from a country on the amber list.
The UK’s largest holiday company will offer coronavirus tests for a fraction of standard prices to ‘make travel a possibility’ once travel restrictions are lifted. Pictured: An airport testing centre in Brussels
Tui said its cheapest package – made up of a lateral flow test and PCR test – will be available for just £20
Boris Johnson has confirmed ‘some openings up’ of international travel will happen from May 17. A formal announcement will be made tomorrow
PCR AND LATERAL FLOW TESTS: THE KEY DIFFERENCES
The UK favours fast tests which are not lab based and give a result within 15 minutes.
These rapid coronavirus tests – known as lateral flow tests – are ones that can be done on the spot using portable equipment.
They are faster and cheaper than lab-based PCR tests – which the government uses to diagnose people – but are less accurate.
Lateral flow tests work by detecting the virus’s proteins – not its RNA – via a nose swab.
They are not suitable for detecting Covid in people who are exhibiting symptoms – such as a fever or a continuous cough.
PCR tests – which detect the virus’ RNA – should be chosen by those exhibiting symptoms.
They cost at least £180 and the swab – typically of the nose and throat – is processed in the lab.
PCR tests alone typically cost £120 each, although several travel companies offer them for £60.
The ban on foreign holidays is expected to be lifted for people in England from May 17 as part of the next easing of coronavirus restrictions.
At that point a risk-based traffic light system will be introduced, with different rules for returning travellers depending on which list their destination is on.
People arriving from a green location will not have quarantine, while those returning from somewhere on the amber list must self-isolate for at least five days.
The red list requires a 10-night stay in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £1,750 for solo travellers.
There have been fears that testing requirements would make summer holidays too expensive for many people, by adding hundreds of pounds to the overall cost of a trip.
The green, amber and red lists, based on an assessment of coronavirus risks, are expected to be published by the Department for Transport tomorrow.
No dates have been set by the UK’s devolved administrations.
Tui has partnered with Norwich-based testing firm Chronomics to offer the packages.
Andrew Flintham, Tui’s managing director for the UK and Ireland, said: ‘We have always believed that cost-effective testing solutions, as well as maximum flexibility, will make travel a possibility this summer and beyond.
‘Our research has shown that customers are looking forward to their much-needed holiday overseas, but affordable and easy testing solutions was imperative to make this a reality.
‘The four new exclusive testing packages have been developed with our customers in mind; they’re offered at greatly reduced prices, include certification to travel and will be a simple process from start to finish.’
Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said: ‘Tui launching an affordable testing package for holidays to green list countries is great news – but only for Tui customers.
‘Other larger holiday companies that can afford to subsidise test costs may follow suit, but medium and small travel firms may struggle to compete, and holidaymakers could face reduced choice as a result.
‘People should not have to shop around for mandatory tests if they want to travel, or have their hand forced as to who they book with based on limited provision of cheap tests.
‘The Government must work to reduce the cost of testing across the board, rather than have consumers rely on a system that is currently fragmented and flawed.’
The holiday ‘green list’ of quarantine-free destinations from May 17 will be unveiled tomorrow.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to reveal the long-awaited traffic light system after the initial roster was signed off by ministers.
But it is understood that there will only be a ‘very small’ number of countries subject to the loosest rules when the blanket ban on non-essential travel lifts. Potential early candidates include Gibraltar, Malta and Portugal.
The tests will be requirements for people returning to or visiting England from green list destinations under the Government’s traffic light system for international travel. Pictured: An airport testing centre in Franz-Josef-Strauss airport in Munich
Hopes are now pinned on a much broader ‘big bang’ reopening of popular spots next month – by which time more people will have been vaccinated and an international system of certificates should be up and running.
Earlier this week a shift in government travel advice gave an apparent a hint of what destinations could be on the green list.
Tourists visiting a number of popular summer hotspots do not face a level of risk for coronavirus that is ‘unacceptably high’, according to the latest updates from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
The FCDO is not advising against non-essential travel to Portugal (excluding the Azores), Spain’s Canary Islands or the Greek islands of Rhodes, Kos, Zante, Corfu and Crete.
Malta is one of the countries being tipped to make the initial ‘green list’ of quarantine-free destinations from May 17
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to reveal the long-awaited traffic light system for travel tomorrow
There is no guarantee that the green list will match the FCDO’s travel advice, but the latter indicates the Government’s current evaluation of the risks to tourists
Assessments will be based on a range of factors, including the proportion of a country’s population that has been vaccinated, rates of infection, emerging new variants, and the country’s access to reliable scientific data and genomic sequencing.
Whitehall sources have revealed that rapid Covid tests will be made available free of charge to people travelling abroad, in a bid to cut the hassle and expense of getting a pre-return test in a foreign country.
However, in a decision that will dismay the travel industry, people returning from abroad will still have to pay for a gold-standard PCR test when they get home, at a cost of at least £50 each.
Concerns remain that the cost of testing could prove prohibitive for many hoping to get a summer break abroad.
The Prime Minister said last month that he was determined to ‘make things as flexible and as affordable as possible’, adding that: ‘I do want to see international travel start up again.’
Health chiefs have put their foot down about the requirement for all travellers to take a PCR test after returning home, as this is the only test able to detect so-called variants of concern which could undermine the vaccine programme.
However, they have relented on the issue of pre-flight tests. At present, all travellers must have a test conducted under supervision no more than three days before they fly home.
Under the new plans, to be unveiled on Friday, they will be offered a fast-turnaround ‘lateral flow’ test to pack in their suitcase.
A source said that health officials were now satisfied that these self-administered tests, of the type used in schools, would be sufficient.
Concerns have been raised by the travel industry about the cost of testing.
One £65 PCR test alone would hike the cost of the average £144 one-way airline ticket by 45 per cent, it warned.
The European Union has said it will open its borders to non-EU countries with successful vaccination programmes and low infection rates such as the UK.
It aims to drop the EU-wide ban for UK holidaymakers and accept vaccinated Britons from June.
People with proof of a negative test would also be able to enter the bloc for leisure travel.