Two senior Conservative MPs have urged Boris Johnson and the government to limit the cost and burden to travellers of any mandatory testing requirement when international travel restarts.
Under a new traffic light system, overseas leisure travel is likely to resume this summer, but it is expected that testing will play a role in facilitating travel to and from all destinations – whether they are designated green, amber or red.
Earlier this week, after easyJet chief Johan Lundgren warned the cost of testing could price people out of overseas leisure travel, Boris Johnson said the government would aim to make testing "as flexible and affordable as possible".
He also confirmed officials were looking at whether cheaper, rapid antigen or lateral flow tests, the likes of which are due to be used to reopen some aspects of the UK’s leisure and hospitality sectors, could be accepted in place of the two more expensive PCR tests currently travellers must take upon their return to England.
Everyone in the UK will be offered free lateral flow tests from Friday (9 April). International travel will resume from 17 May "at the very earliest" subject to a forthcoming report by the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, due on 12 April.
At present, it is expected anyone arriving in England from countries given green status will be required to test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their return flight departing, and at least once more once back in England.
The Telegraph reports it is this test that the government is looking at potentially making a rapid antigen or lateral flow test, with PCR tests costing upwards of £100 each – adding a significant extra financial cost to any overseas travel.
PCR testing, though, allows the government to monitor and sequence all positive results for Covid-19 and keep track of new variants.
Henry Smith, MP for Gatwick and chair of the government’s all-party Future of Aviation Group, told the paper he had written to Johnson urging him to advocate "the less expensive and burdensome tests that are available" or risk placing "prohibitive" costs on travel.
"I am not necessarily against testing, but I do question the need for PCR tests," said Smith. "Any testing in terms of cost needs to be kept to a minimum, otherwise it is a big disincentive."
Graham Brady, chair of the Conservatives’ backbench 1922 Committee, added: "Requiring expensive testing as a condition of travel back to the UK would make the cost prohibitive for many people who need to travel to see family whom they haven’t seen for over a year and would make the idea of foreign holidays for anyone but the wealthy entirely impractical."
It all comes after Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, and the Airport Operators Association wrote to the prime minister urging him to follow through with his hint that cheaper antigen or lateral flow testing could be used to satisfy the UK’s testing requirements.
"Airlines and airports are concerned about indications that travellers even from green countries would still require both pre-departure and post-arrival tests of an unknown specification, but possibly PCR," said the duo in their letter to the PM," said Airlines UK chief Tim Alderslade and AOA boss Karen Dee in their letter.
"Few people can afford to add hundreds of pounds in testing costs to a standard trip. This would create a significant barrier to travel for many and would risk preventing a meaningful restart this summer."