MARK PALMER: These senseless rules and rip-off fees are a minefield for tourists and travellers
- Whether and how Brits have to test or quarantine after travelling abroad depends on a complicated traffic light system
- There are more than 400 testing companies listed on the Government’s website, charging anything from £19.95 to £399 for a PCR test (around £175 on average)
- However some have been found to offer a poor service, returning results late
- A chaotic foreign travel policy could risk undermining UK’s vaccine progress
What a shame the Prime Minister has opted to take a holiday in Britain later this summer rather than in one of the traditional hotspots he and his advisers have put on the fiendishly complicated and now largely discredited amber or green lists of countries.
A couple of weeks with Carrie and Wilf in Greece or Spain would have given him a ‘sense of perspective’, as politicians like to put it – specifically about what British travellers are having to put up with when trying to obey the ever-changing rules on testing.
And let’s not forget that we are talking about travellers in general – perhaps those who need to be abroad on business or visiting sick relatives, for example – and not holidaymakers in particular.
It’s a perspective that can only lead to one conclusion: The Government is presiding over a system that is out of control. And not just out of control but not making much sense either.
Yes, it is good news that more countries have been moved on to the green list and that the bamboozling ‘amber plus’ list has been dispensed with all together.
Had the Prime Minister (right) opted to take couple of weeks holiday with Carrie and Wilf in Greece or Spain, it would have given him a ‘sense of perspective’, as politicians like to put it – specifically about what British travellers are having to put up with when trying to obey the ever-changing rules on testing. Pictured: The Johnson family on holiday in Scotland in 2020
But it’s hard not to see this as a move to appease increasingly irate Tory MPs rather than the result of a carefully thought out, integrated policy on travel – something that has been sadly lacking ever since the pandemic began.
As for testing, many holidays have been ruined even before they started as some testing firms have failed to get people’s results back to them in time, meaning that travellers have had to fork out hundreds of pounds on rebooking their flights.
And insisting that even those who have been double-jabbed must take a costly PCR test two days after they have returned to the UK from green and amber list countries has given free licence for companies to fleece travellers by charging exorbitant fees for what often is a shoddy service.
And why a PCR test, anyway? Surely people should be allowed to take a far cheaper lateral flow test on arriving back in the UK and, then, if that proves positive, arrange for the more conclusive PCR test.
What makes all this especially galling is that the testing companies are on the Government’s ‘approved’ list of practitioners – not that you have to do much to be approved.
There are more than 400 such companies listed on the official website, charging anything from £19.95 to £399 for a PCR test (around £175 on average).
But now it has also emerged that a vital part of this expensive testing debacle has been found wanting.
As the Tory MP and chairman of the transport committee, Huw Merriman, has pointed out: ‘Of all the PCR tests from arriving passengers that came back positive in the three week period from 1 July, only 5 per cent were then genome sequenced’.
There are more than 400 such companies listed on the official website, charging anything from £19.95 to £399 for a PCR test (around £175 on average) [File photo]
Genome sequencing is the process by which different strains of the virus can be identified and a vital means of spotting new and possibly more dangerous variants – which is surely a key issue in testing.
Certainly, most people accept that some form of testing should be mandatory when coming back from red-listed countries with high infection rates (most likely a PCR test) – but not when returning from countries that have both lower rates of infection and similar high rates of vaccination to the UK.
This now includes Spain, the most popular holiday destination for Britons – and yet ministers are advising travellers to take a PCR test even though it isn’t mandatory.
The danger is that our successful vaccination programme will end up being undermined by the Government’s woeful travel strategy.
Opening the door to travel should mean not just changing the rules on quarantining but radically changing the requirements on testing, too.