PCR tests could soon be scrapped. Are holiday costs set to plummet?

PCR tests could soon be scrapped. Are holiday costs set to plummet?
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Reports suggest that the government is on the verge of scrapping the requirement to take a PCR test when returning to the UK from abroad. So what’s happening? And what will the changes mean? Here’s what you need to know.

PCR test requirements: what are the current rules?

The number of times you have to take a PCR test depends on whether you’re arriving in England from a green, amber, or red list destination.

Green list arrivals

Currently, all travellers – regardless of their vaccination status – arriving in England from a green list country must:

  • Take a Covid-19 test in the three days before travelling to England (this can be an antigen, rather than a PCR test)
  • Book and pay in advance for a day 2 PCR test
  • Complete a passenger locator form
  • Upon arrival in England, take a PCR test on or before day 2.

Amber list arrivals

Travellers arriving in England from an amber list country must:

  • Take a Covid-19 test in the three days before travelling to England (this can be an antigen, rather than a PCR test)
  • Book and pay in advance for a day 2 PCR test and a day 8 PCR test
  • Complete a passenger locator form
  • Upon arrival in England, take a PCR test on or before day 2, and on day 8.

If you are not fully vaccinated, you must quarantine at home for 10 days. You must also take a PCR test on or before day 2, and on day 8.

The government considers you ‘fully vaccinated’ if you have received your second dose at least 14 days before arriving in the UK. 

If you aren’t fully vaccinated, it’s possible to end your quarantine early through the Test to Release scheme. However, to take advantage of this, you will have to pay for another PCR test. You can take this on your fifth day after arriving in England.

Red list arrivals

If arriving in England from a red list country, then you must undertake the same number of PCR tests as amber list travellers. In addition, you also have to quarantine in a government-managed hotel at great expense. Full details can be found on the gov.uk website.

What are the rules outside England?

PCR test requirements and other travel rules differ slightly between UK countries.

If you live outside England, check the guidance for Wales, Scotland, or Northern Ireland.

What are the criticisms of PCR tests? 

The main criticism of PCR tests is that they are expensive. That’s because many private providers charge in the region of £60 for a PCR test, which is roughly double the cost of a private lateral flow (or antigen) test.

Who is calling for changes?

Many critics of PCR test requirements say that they are not necessary, especially for travellers who are fully vaccinated. Many also feel that the current traffic light system is making holidaymakers reluctant to travel.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of ABTA, has suggested that the current system is negatively impacting jobs in the UK. He explains: “The government’s travel requirements have choked off this summer’s travel trade – putting jobs, businesses and the UK’s connectivity at risk.

“While our European neighbours have been travelling freely and safely, the British were subject to expensive measures which have stood in the way of people visiting family and friends, taking that much-needed foreign holiday and making important business connections.”

Tanzer also says that the government needs to take immediate action to protect the travel industry: “The government needs to wake up to the damage its policies are doing to the UK travel industry and the impact they will have on the wider economic recovery.”

Will the requirement to take a PCR test be axed?

While an end to PCR test requirements hasn’t yet been confirmed, it’s thought that the government will soon accept results of cheaper lateral flow tests from returning travellers.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a recent TV interview that he is in favour of scrapping PCR test requirements. However, he maintained a cautious tone when speaking about wider travel restrictions.

He explained: “We have got a huge number of defences; of course we still want to remain very cautious, and there are some things that – when it comes to travel for example – there are some rules that are going to have to remain in place” 

He added: “The PCR test that is required upon your return to the UK from certain countries … I want to try and get rid of that as soon as I possibly can.”

Whether or not the government decides to make changes, it’s always a good idea to try to cut the cost of travel. To keep on top of the latest travel tips, see our latest travel articles.

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