Due to the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 virus, the travel requirements to and from the UK have been swiftly reacting to this ever- evolving landscape.
Up until quite recently, as travel restrictions were starting to ease, Rapid Lateral Flow Tests, or Antigen Day 2 Tests as they are also called, were being introduced to replace the more costly and involved PCR tests for UK arrivals. However, with the sudden spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, from 7th December 2021, the UK Government have quickly reintroduced the requirement that every passenger over the age of 5 must have a negative ‘Fit to fly’ PCR test on arrival in the UK, to limit the spread of the Omicron variant.
Whether you are a first time traveller, or a seasoned globe trotter, with today’s fast-changing regulations around international travel, you could be forgiven for feeling a bit puzzled about the latest travel guidance.
In this article, we will attempt to clarify the lastest testing advice for travellers returning to the UK, and point you in the right direction for further information.
What Is A Lateral Flow Test?
A rapid lateral flow test detects bits of proteins, called antigens, on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not show any symptoms, and rapid lateral flow tests have been designed to help identify individuals who may have no symptoms but are nonetheless infectious and carriers of the COVID-19 virus.
Antigen tests are typically considered rapid, as they can yield results in as little as 15 minutes. They are also considerably cheaper than the more complex PCR tests. On the whole, this antigen swab gives very accurate and reliable results to determine the presence of the COVID-19 virus. However, as always, there is a small margin of error in widespread testing such as this.
The Benefits of a Lateral Flow Test
The greatest benefit of a lateral flow test is best evidenced in international travel if you are needing quick proof that you are fit to travel, and as long as your destination country accepts them as proof of a negative test status.
Rapid tests are helpful when you are regularly travelling for work, and you are unable to wait for the more complex PCR tests results. Up until recently, an increasing number of countries have been accepting rapid flow tests for international travel, especially as vaccination programmes across the world have also been simultaneously and successfully rolled out.
Latest UK COVID-19 Travel Announcement
Just as travel restrictions were slowly being lifted, the arrival of the highly infectious Omicron variant from South Africa hit the news, and on 7th December 2021, the UK Government reintroduced the requirement that every passenger, regardless of their vaccination status, over the age of 5 travelling to the UK, must have a negative ‘Fit to fly’ test, to limit the spread of the new COVID-19 strain.
In addition to this, the Government specified that Day 2 Lateral Flow Tests will no longer be accepted as adequate proof of COVID-19 testing, but instead, everyone entering England from abroad must take one or more PCR tests for COVID-19.
Please note that if you are travelling from England, you can still take a Lateral Fit to Fly Flow Test as your pre-departure test.
How Much Do Lateral Flow Tests Cost?
Private lateral flow tests are broadly half the price of a PCR test. As a rough guide, travellers are expected to pay around £35–£60 for a lateral flow test, as opposed to £70–£120 for a PCR test. This is quite a significant price difference, and it is easy to see why lateral flow tests are a more economical testing option, especially for families. Unfortunately, for now, new travel restrictions mean that the cheaper lateral flow tests are replaced by PCR tests for returning travellers to the UK, regardless of their vaccination status.
It is important to note that those booking return PCR tests will need to do so through private providers, as you can not use free NHS tests for travel purposes. Travellers are also required to complete a passenger locator form before travelling, and include the booking reference number given by their chosen provider, as proof of purchase. Until the latest testing restrictions are eased, the new rules mean that holidays abroad will become more costly for many in the meantime.
The true cost of this change in travel restrictions is most evident for those who are not yet fully vaccinated. These individuals will need to fund three tests if they wish to travel abroad; one PCR test to leave the UK, one before returning to the UK, and one after their return. This is quite a hefty price hike on top of an average holiday budget.
What Does “2 Day” Mean Exactly?
Although called a ‘Day 2 test’, the rapid flow test can actually be done on or before day 2. Figuring out what “day 2” means is simple: Day 0 is the day you land in the UK, so you effectively have 3 days to get a rapid antigen test done.
Not For Every Situation
Even before the recent changes for travellers arriving in the UK, Day 2 Lateral Flow Tests were not ideal for every situation. Those arriving from red list countries have always been required to go into managed quarantine hotels for 10 days and take a PCR test on or before day 2 – and on or after day 8 of their quarantining. The cost of these PCR tests are normally included in the quarantining hotel package.
Which Test Do I Need While Travelling Abroad?
With the recent changes and travel restrictions, as of 7th December 2021, the government guidance clearly states that Day 2 Lateral Flow tests are no longer adequate means of testing for travellers arriving in the UK, whether they are fully vaccinated or not. Day 2 Lateral Flow Tests have been temporarily replaced by PCR tests only, which need to be booked and purchased from an approved provider before returning to the UK.
Remember that the free NHS Test and Trace tests are not allowed to be used for travel. The Government website supplies a full list of approved providers. MSI Clinics are listed on the UK Government website approved provider list, and we are committed to keeping travellers safe. You can safely and quickly book your PCR test with us, and we also offer walk-in clinics for symptom-free travellers. When you purchase a private Day 2 PCR test with us, you will be provided with a unique reference number, which you will be required to use in your passenger locator form when travelling.
What Happens If I’m Not Fully Vaccinated?
You can find the latest detailed travel advice on the government website with regards to your vaccination status. The new government guidelines state that whether you are fully vaccinated or not, you have to follow these rules:
- All travellers to the UK must take a COVID-19 test in the two days before they travel to England.
- All travellers must also book and pay for a COVID-19 PCR test, which needs to be taken after they return to England.
- All travellers must also complete a passenger locator form, which needs to be done in the 48 hours before they arrive in England.
It is at this point that the vaccination status makes a difference to travellers.
Requirements for Fully Vaccinated Travellers
If you arrive in England and you are fully vaccinated, you must take your pre-booked COVID-19 PCR test anytime before the end of day 2. You must quarantine in your home or the place you are staying at while you await your test result. If your test result is negative, you can end your quarantine. If your test result is positive, or unclear, you must self-isolate for 10 full days. The day you took the test is day 0.
Requirements for Not Fully Vaccinated Travellers
Where the vaccination status makes a real difference is that on top of all the pre-travel arrangements that fully vaccinated travellers need to make, if you are not fully vaccinated, once you arrive in England, you will have to quarantine at home or in a place you are staying for ten days. You legally must also complete a Day 2 PCR test, and a Day 8 PCR test. If you wish to end your quarantine period early you may take part in the Test to Release scheme, which involves paying for an extra private PCR test on Day 5.
Fast and Accurate Results for Your Busy Lifestyle
At MSI Clinics, we are committed to keeping travellers safe and moving. We are a highly regarded UKAS accredited, government listed private test provider for all COVID-19 testing services. We specialise in all types of COVID-19 testing for individuals and companies, and we are open seven days a week. Our PCR tests are fast and accurate, and our caring professionals are highly skilled and experienced in working with individuals of all ages.
We provide a wide range of testing services to suit your personal circumstances. Take a look at our testing options whether you are fully vaccinated or not, and schedule an appointment with us. We will do our very best to help you.