Grant Shapps says new lateral flow travel tests rely on ‘common sense’


Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today said ‘common sense’ would be required after confirming double-jabbed tourists returning to Britain will soon be allowed to take a photograph of a Covid-19 lateral flow test to verify they are negative.

The policy change means that pricey PCR tests, which can cost more than £100, will finally be scrapped in time for families returning from half-term holidays.

The PCR tests will be replaced with cheaper rapid lateral flow swabs for travellers ‘before October 31’, although the free NHS tests will not be acceptable. 

Travellers will now have to take a photograph of the negative lateral flow result on a mobile phone and send it to the private provider from whom they bought it.

This will then be verified by the private provider, but it is not yet clear how this will work – and concerns are now being raised about how people could fake a result. 

Government sources told MailOnline today that there will be ‘more details to follow’ on how the verification process will work.

Mr Shapps said today he would be relying on ‘people’s common sense’ when asked how authorities could be sure the photographed test belonged to the right person. 

Travellers will have to book the tests through private providers and prove on their passenger locator form, which must be filled out by all travellers before returning, that they have done so. Lateral flow tests typically cost between £20 and £40.

There are also understood to be concerns about whether private providers have enough supply to meet demand, delaying the announcement of a specific date.  

A person holds a negative lateral flow Covid-19 test in front of a UK passport (file picture)

Holidaymakers returning from popular destinations such as Cape Verde, Indonesia and Thailand will no longer have to quarantine in hotels for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285

Holidaymakers returning from popular destinations such as Cape Verde, Indonesia and Thailand will no longer have to quarantine in hotels for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285

But it means families going on a week-long break at the start of the October half-term holidays should be able to dodge shelling out for a pricey PCR on their return.

Among those raising concerns on social media about the new lateral flow photo policy was Pamela Collumb, who tweeted today: ‘Doesn’t prove they are Covid negative, anyone could do the test. Complete waste of time and money!’

How will the new lateral flow photos work? 

Ministers agreed returning vaccinated holidaymakers will not have to film themselves taking Covid tests.

Instead, a photograph of the negative result from a lateral flow test taken on a mobile phone and sent to the private provider of the test to verify will be sufficient.

Travellers will not be able to use free ones provided by the NHS.

They will have to book them through private providers and prove on their passenger locator form, which must be filled out by all travellers before returning, that they have done so.

Lateral flow tests typically cost between £20 and £40.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid had wanted travellers to be supervised taking the rapid tests.

But following a meeting of the ‘Covid O’ committee of Cabinet ministers yesterday morning, it was agreed that a photo of the result would be enough. 

And Karen John said: ‘What if you can’t take it?! Lots of people do not have the phones to take this! Who thinks up these crazy ideas?’

A third Twitter user said: ‘How long before an app that mocks up a false photo of your home based Covid-19 lateral flow test appears online?! What a total farce.’

It comes after ministers agreed that returning vaccinated holidaymakers will not have to film themselves taking Covid tests.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid had wanted travellers to be supervised taking the rapid tests.

But following a meeting of the ‘Covid O’ committee of Cabinet ministers yesterday morning, it was agreed that a photograph of the negative result taken on a mobile phone and sent to the provider to verify will be sufficient.

Also yesterday, the ‘no-go’ red list was slashed from 54 countries to just seven by ministers.

Forty-seven countries were axed from the red list and moved to the safe ‘go’ or green list, opening up quarantine-free holidays to these places for the first time in months.

The changes will take effect at 4am on Monday. Holidaymakers returning from popular destinations such as Cape Verde, Indonesia and Thailand will no longer have to quarantine in hotels for 11 nights at a cost of £2,285.

Other destinations moved off red include Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Tunisia and South Africa.

Travel chiefs last night hailed the move as ‘long overdue’ and said it signalled ‘light at the end of a very long tunnel’ for the beleaguered industry, which has been brought to its knees by the pandemic.

The major re-opening, coupled with the scrapping of PCR tests for the vaccinated, is a huge boost to those looking for a foreign getaway during half-term and beyond. 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today told BBC Breakfast that he would be relying on 'people's common sense' when asked about companies verifying lateral flow tests

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today told BBC Breakfast that he would be relying on ‘people’s common sense’ when asked about companies verifying lateral flow tests

Destinations moved off red include Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Tunisia and South Africa. A beach is pictured above in Cancun

Destinations moved off red include Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, the Seychelles, Tunisia and South Africa. A beach is pictured above in Cancun

Mr Shapps said: ‘With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.’

When will the US fully reopen to UK visitors? 

Grant Shapps said today that he does not have a specific date in November yet for the US to fully reopen to visitors from the UK.

The Transport Secretary said he had spoken with the US ambassador in recent days.

He told Sky News: ‘They (the US) are still working through the technicalities of that. They’ve said November to us and obviously we’re working very closely with them because we would like to see that done so families can reunite, businesses can get together and people can go travelling again.

‘So we think it’s certainly well due. We’re allowing Americans here, we’re recognising their vaccines.’

In another interview today, Mr Shapps also said the US had indicated ‘early November’ for travel there to reopen fully for people coming from the UK.

He said it is a ‘practical’ issue for the US, rather than a reluctance to reopen to British travellers.

He told Times Radio: ‘It’s not that they don’t want to do it. It’s actually that in many ways they don’t have the kind of level of sophistication in place on international travel that has become normal to us.

‘For example, they don’t actually have domestically there a Covid certification like the NHS app, it’s a piece of paper. So you might say well, why does that matter to Brits going over there? Well again, they just don’t have a system set up to read the NHS barcode or to be able to recognise other people’s tests.

‘So all of that is being worked through. They are still saying, November, they’re still saying to me, early November.

‘Obviously it’s not in our hands to dictate this but I’m very keen for it to be reopened. It’s the world’s busiest route actually, by the way, the transatlantic route, so it’s very important to the airlines, as well as families and friends getting together again.’

But ministers faced growing calls to reach a decision on the exact date when rapid swabs will replace PCR tests. A source insisted it will be ‘before October 31’. 

Mr Shapps told Sky News today: ‘We want to get this done for half term for people.’

He added: ‘We anticipate having it ready for the half term, and what a difference it will make for people.’

He said the process with lateral flows rather than PCR tests will be ‘much much easier, much less expensive as well’.

Asked when an announcement can be expected, he said: ‘In the coming days’. 

People arriving in the UK who take a lateral flow test to check their Covid status will have to take a photograph of it to prove the result.

Mr Shapps told BBC Breakfast: ‘If it’s positive, you’ll automatically receive a PCR test, you’ll be in the NHS system, as with the normal Test and Trace, so you’ll get the PCR without having to do anything further, and of course, be asked to isolate.

‘If it’s negative, that’s it, you’re free to go, and the good thing is that can either be done, as I say, as soon as coming through the gates, potentially, at some airports where they might offer that, or you may have ordered a test to be at your home.

‘You carry out that test, we’re going to ask people to take a photograph of it so that it’s actually your test. And that’s it, the job is done, there’s nothing further to do. So it’s going to be a much simplified, much cheaper system.’

Asked how authorities could be sure the photographed test belonged to the right person, Mr Shapps said: ‘Well, look, you could always say this with any system, the PCR system that’s been in place up until now hasn’t required any monitoring at all. So you could always make that argument.

‘We have throughout this crisis, though, I think relied on people’s common sense, I think most people wanted to do the right thing.’

Mr Shapps also said travellers returning to the UK could be ‘done and dusted’ with organising testing before they even get home, with lateral flows set to be available at airports.

The Transport Secretary said the goal is to have made the switch from PCR testing to quicker and cheaper lateral flows by half-term.

Asked if he was referring to English schools’ half-terms around October 22, he told Times Radio: ‘Yes, that’s right, 22nd of October. That’s the goal and, as I say, the testing companies are gearing up to do that.

‘I’ve spoken to the airports including Heathrow and they even have tests available as you walk through the airport so you could be done and dusted before you even get home with these things, which will be a massive improvement to having to send off PCR tests to labs and waiting for the results and all the costs involved.’

Mr Shapps also said lateral flow tests had been ‘getting better and better’ on their sensitivity.

South Africa, Thailand and Mexico are among 47 countries being cut from the red list

A total of 47 countries including South Africa, Mexico and Thailand will be removed from England’s red list on Monday, Grant Shapps has announced.

Travellers arriving from those destinations will no longer need to spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

Just seven countries will remain on the red list following the changes.

They are Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Haiti, Panama, Peru and Venezuela.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own travel rules but have recently mirrored announcements made in Westminster.

Mr Shapps said: ‘With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.

‘Restoring people’s confidence in travel is key to rebuilding our economy and levelling up this country. With less restrictions and more people travelling, we can all continue to move safely forward together along our pathway to recovery.’

Mr Shapps also announced that the Government would recognise vaccines for arrivals from a further 37 countries and territories including Brazil, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey.

The decision means fully vaccinated people entering England from these locations will be exempt from quarantine, the pre-departure test and the day-eight post-arrival test. 

He told BBC Breakfast: ‘You’re right to say you can’t then sequence the genome from a lateral flow test. The advantage here is if you do get a positive lateral flow, you’ll automatically be sent the PCR test, and that then can be sequenced.

‘The one other advantage of the lateral flow, of course, is the instantaneousness of the result, you have the result within 15 minutes, and that means that we think that there’ll be fewer people wandering around unaware that they have something, that they’ve got the coronavirus, and therefore in one sense, it’s a little bit safer, even though you’re right to say that the specification is slightly less than a PCR test.’

Asked if he was sure the move to lateral flow tests would not put the public at greater risk, Mr Shapps said: ‘Yeah, that’s right because of vaccination – and by the way, I should say this all only applies to fully vaccinated folk, here and abroad – and because of vaccination, the risks are massively reduced, because of the quality of the lateral flow test and the speed at which they can be taken, we’re comfortable with that and our scientists are comfortable with that, and it’s a big step forward.’

Asked if he foresees a ‘testless, traffic light-less’ summer of travel next year, Mr Shapps said: ‘I very much hope so’.

He told Times Radio: ‘Having gone through this two years in a row, two summers in a row and, like many other people, experienced the shortcomings of a system that was able to change so quickly, I really do hope that this is the world going back to normal.’

He said the vaccine is ‘the answer’, adding: ‘The vaccine is the thing that’s enabled us to make these big changes on international travel as well.’

Mr Shapps also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the changes to coronavirus testing for travellers would be in place ‘hopefully in time for people returning from a half-term holidays potentially, and certainly by the end of October’. 

Thomas Cook chief executive Alan French said the recently announced changes were ‘good news for both ourselves and our customers’, but stressed that more clarity is needed from the Government.

He said that while there will be no catch-up this year with 2019 because ‘most of the holiday season is really gone’ for 2021, the opportunity to now book a half-term or Christmas break is welcome.

Mr French told LBC: ‘I think if people are starting to plan for the winter sun break, which is really around Christmas time, again, way more options than they had before, much better deals, so we are upbeat about that.

‘But those are, in all honesty, slightly smaller parts of our business than the summer, which is obviously behind us.’

He added that he wants ‘clarity’ from the Transport Secretary, particularly in relation to changes around lateral flow testing.

Mr French said: ‘If there was one thing that I would like from Grant Shapps, it’s clarity as to what’s going on, when things are going to change, and give us some notice.

‘Even if there has to be a provision in there that says: ‘If something goes wrong, it might change’ – but at least give us a road map of activities that we can plan for, that’s what we really would like.’ 

But Dr Penelope Toff, the British Medical Association’s public health medicine committee co-chair, told MailOnline today: ‘No test is 100 per cent accurate, but we know lateral flow tests are less reliable than PCR tests, meaning there’s a real danger of even more new infections being missed.

‘There’s no good public health reason for making this switch and it would be much better if travellers were still required to take a PCR test.

‘Even more importantly, that they should self-isolate if the test is positive or they have symptoms which may be due to Covid-19.

‘Yesterday we saw daily cases rise to above 40,000 in the UK for the first time in a month, while the number of patients in hospital with Covid-19 remains high.

‘The Government’s current strategy, of which this policy forms only a part, has been to abandon simple prevention measures, such as mask-wearing, meaning the spread of the virus is not being controlled as well as it could be, with particular risks for those who are vulnerable.

‘This is of great concern as we head into winter, when we know respiratory infections like Covid-19 thrive and it is important to ensure as many people as possible, including younger people, are vaccinated against both Covid-19 and that those who are eligible are also vaccinated against flu.

‘As the statistics show, the pandemic is far from over, and this policy change sends the wrong message.’

The Department for Transport said it was still ministers’ ‘ambition to have this in place for people returning from half-term breaks by the end of the month’. 

It comes after the traffic light system was scrapped on Monday and replaced with one red list and a safe ‘rest of the world’ list.

Double-jabbed travellers will now only have to take one test after returning from safe countries by day two. 

From later this month, a PCR test – free on the NHS – will only be required if the rapid test is positive. Children are treated as though fully vaccinated, even if they are not, making family holidays possible. 

But non-vaccinated people must quarantine at home for ten days, take a pre-return test within 72 hours and two PCR tests on days two and eight after arrival.

The seven countries that remain on the red list are Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama, Haiti, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. The red list will continue to be reviewed every three weeks.

The changes only apply to England. It was unclear last night whether the devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will follow suit.

The travel industry hailed the news that 47 countries were being removed from the red list.

British Airways chief Sean Doyle said: ‘It finally feels like we are seeing light at the end of a very long tunnel. Britain will benefit from this significant reduction in red list countries.’

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