ECONOMY

Covid travel testing should have been improved, not abandoned – adviser


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scientist advising the Government has accused ministers of “abandoning” the testing system for international travel, saying planned relaxations will increase the risk of importing infections and new virus variants.

Professor Stephen Reicher said officials could have improved the system which saw “absurd rates” charged for PCR tests, by doing such testing through the NHS.

The traffic light system in England is to be replaced from October 4 by a single, reduced, “red list” of destinations, and those who are fully vaccinated will no longer need a pre-departure test before returning from non-red list destinations.

I think it has increased the risk, quite frankly, and I think we should have improved the system rather than by and large abandoning it

From the end of October, they will also be able to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test.

Prof Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, which feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said the system around PCR tests for travellers has been “dysfunctional” with “all the different companies charging absurd rates and not providing a service”.

He said the Government has responded to this “not by improving the system but by abandoning it entirely”, and added that, domestically, there remains “huge uncertainty” about the effect on virus cases of the return of schools, universities, workplaces and people spending more time indoors in the autumn weather.

On travel, he told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme: “I think it would have been far preferable to keep PCR tests but to improve the system and to do them through the NHS.

“I think it (the relaxation) is increasing risk. I think it does limit, in fact it stops our ability to trace different variants, and increases the probability of infected people coming into the country.

“I think it has increased the risk, quite frankly, and I think we should have improved the system rather than by and large abandoning it.”

Lawrence Young, professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick, said: “Letting our guard down runs the risk of bringing a new variant into the country, such as the Mu variant first identified in Colombia, which could reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.”

Another scientist said while easing the rules will “inevitably increase the risk” of infections, high rates in the UK mean travellers could be as likely to catch Covid on a trip to Torquay as one to Turkey.

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