Covid test firm cuts price amid criticism over cost

·3 min read
PCR test swab.
PCR test swab.

The cost of coronavirus testing for holidaymakers has been cut amid growing pressure from the travel industry.

Randox, one of the biggest suppliers of PCR tests under the UK's "testing for travel" scheme, has reduced the price from £100 to £60.

But travel organisation Abta warned that the cost was still a "significant restriction".

Other industry figures including the boss of Easyjet have said the requirement could price out travellers.

Foreign holidays are currently banned, and returning travellers have to quarantine on arrival. The earliest possible date for foreign travel from England has previously been given as 17 May, but it has not been confirmed.

The first ministers of Scotland and Wales have argued that it is too early for foreign holidays.

For England, destination countries will be in one of three categories (green, amber or red) and each one will require passengers to take a pre-departure Covid test as well as a PCR test on return to the UK.

Consumer group Which? has estimated that each PCR test - which is just one of the tests needed - could cost about £120 per person.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA), said that although one of the leading suppliers had cut costs, "£60 is still a lot of money" - particularly for families of four or five.

He added that a "better solution is to not have a PCR test", speaking in front of the Transport Select Committee.

MPs also questioned why PCR tests are typically up to 80% cheaper overseas.

Mr Tanzer said: "I can't see anything in the UK that is different about PCR that means it is more expensive there than elsewhere".

Criticism has come from other parts of the industry looking to salvage a key period of summer trade.

Johan Lundgren, the chief executive of Easyjet, said on Wednesday: "Easyjet was founded to make travel accessible for all and so we continue to engage with government to ensure that the cost of the required testing is driven down".

Mr Lundgren added that may "risk turning back the clock and make travel too costly for some".

'Ramping up' for summer holidays

The airline also said that many European countries were planning to resume flying "at scale" in May.

Bookings for summer travel, dependent on restrictions easing, will help boost the airline's finances which have been squeezed during the pandemic.

Passenger numbers for the six months to 31 March fell by 89% to 4.1 million. This led to total group revenue for the same period dropping by 90% to £235m, while it expects a pre-tax loss of £690-730m.

Easyjet said that has enough flexibility to "significantly ramp capacity up or down quickly", according to demand for flights.

"Customers are booking closer to departure and visibility remains limited", it said. But overall between April and the end of June, it expects to fly up to 20% of 2019 capacity levels.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps recently told the BBC that for the first time he was not "advising against booking foreign holidays".

"Yes, you'll want to check what the situation is in two or three weeks' time when that list [of countries] - the green, amber, red, is produced - you'll want to know that you've got good holiday insurance and flexible flights and the rest of it.

"But for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we'll be able to restart international travel, including cruises by the way, in a safe and secure way, knowing about the vaccinations, everything we know about the disease this year, and of course that abundance of caution - having the tests in place."

The government has said it would work with airlines, travel firms and the test providers to see whether prices of tests can be reduced.

That could involve cheaper tests, or the government providing the pre-departure tests.