Covid in Wales: Ministers consider U-turn on private travel tests

3 months ago 28
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By Catrin Haf Jones
BBC Wales political correspondent

image sourceGetty Images

image captionPeople returning to Wales are currently required to use NHS PCR tests at £68 each

A ban on travellers using private Covid tests when returning from abroad could be scrapped by the Welsh government.

Rules say travellers from Wales should use NHS tests, costing £68 each, when going abroad or face a £1,000 fine.

First Minister Mark Drakeford had said in July he had "no plans" to change Wales' preferred approach of using NHS tests as the Welsh government was advising against foreign travel.

But a Welsh government spokesman has said the policy is now being reviewed.

The statement followed a BBC Wales investigation that found Welsh travellers had been able to use private PCR tests without facing any repercussions.

Wales is now the only UK nation requiring those who have been abroad to use NHS PCR tests on day two of their return - and day eight if unvaccinated - at a cost of £68 each.

The Scottish government announced last Friday that it would follow England and Northern Ireland in allowing travellers to use PCR tests provided by private companies on their return from international travel.

Mr Drakeford said in July that there were why the more expensive NHS test is preferable and guarantees variants from abroad can be "spotted quickly".

media captionCalls have been made to investigate the cost of PCR travel tests in Wales

"I don't intend to divert the activities of my officials into making it easier for people to do something that the Welsh government so clearly thinks is unadvisable," he said.

Conservative MP David TC Davies last week called for Wales' Labour government to change the rules so that travellers could "shop around" for PCR tests offered by private companies, which can be cheaper, but says that this should not happen by the back door.

Mr Davies, a UK government Wales Office minister, said: "No-one is allowed to break the rules. Although I'm not happy with the situation in Wales, people have to follow Welsh rules."

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image captionIn July Mark Drakeford said there were "no plans" to change the policy

Earlier this month, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced a review into the Covid testing system for travellers after complaints about pricing and performance among some private providers in England.

A number of Welsh travellers have told BBC Wales they have used private PCR tests without any issues.

The Welsh government has said anyone who arrives in Wales and has booked tests with a private test provider could still face a fine of £1,000.

How much do the NHS tests cost?

The cost of an NHS test is set by the UK government.

It has been reduced from £88 for a single test to £68, but in England people can choose between private providers and could pay less than £50 per test.

Who needs to take a PCR test when they return to Wales?

  • Anyone over the age of 11 must have proof of a negative coronavirus test before they travel to Wales from overseas, with some exemptions.
  • All travellers aged five and over must have a post-arrival testing package booked before they return to Wales.
  • Those travelling to Wales from green-list countries need to take a PCR test on day two after arrival, even if their flight or ferry arrived in England, and do not need to isolate.
  • People who are fully vaccinated and have travelled from an amber country to Wales, excluding France, also need to take a PCR test on day two of quarantine and do not need to isolate.
  • People travelling from an amber country who are not fully vaccinated will need to take another test on day eight and must isolate for 10 days.
  • If you have visited or passed through a red-list country you will only be able to enter Wales via a designated port of entry in England or Scotland. You will need to take a PCR on days two and eight of isolation and quarantine for 10 days in a managed quarantine hotel.

What is the Vivo Clinic's position?

One of the private companies identified by users, Randox, has four drop off points across south Wales where people can return their tests.

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image captionThere have been complaints about some private providers in England

One of Randox's boxes is based outside the Vivo Clinic in Cardiff whose web page, before being contacted by BBC Wales, offered customers the option to "book your day two and day eight PCR tests at our Cardiff clinic", adding it was a "government listed PCR test provider in partnership with Randox".

The Vivo Clinic said it is a "national company offering testing services in a sector where guidance is continually changing.

"However, the accusation of not following Welsh rules is unfair and unjust," said a spokesperson.

"Many of our clients cross the English/Welsh border on a daily basis and for some clients they may be based in England but their nearest clinic is in Wales.

"Due to such a high demand for PCR testing services along the English/Welsh border, we offer all services in Bristol, Cardiff and Swansea to give customers more choice of where to go for their pre/post travel tests.

"Our website does make it clear that all customers must check their own local guidance to ensure they are undertaking the correct tests based on these requirements.

image captionA Randox drop off box outside the Vivo Clinic in Cardiff

"Nevertheless, at this current stage we have removed day 2/8 testing from our Welsh clinics until we receive further guidance on policy and protocol."

What does the Welsh government say now?

A Welsh government spokesperson said: "We continue to review the position with regard to private testing in Wales and are working with the UK government to ensure that only those companies who achieve mutually agreed standards are allowed to provide tests.

"It is critical any positive cases and harmful variants are identified at the earliest opportunity.

"For this reason, for the time being, we require the tests to be provided by the NHS, so that we can identify positive cases as quickly as possible for our Test, Trace, Protect system to follow up."

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