How testing could transform your half term holiday
The autumn half term is coming up, with many in the UK desperate for a chance to get abroad for a bit of warm weather, having had their summer holidays scuppered by lockdowns, travel bans – and a fair few UK storms.
Right now, the question for many will be where to go. The frontrunners were originally Italy and Greece, which remain on the FCDO list and don’t require negative Covid tests from visitors. But this has now been thrown into chaos.
Italy’s seven-day case rate doubled over the last month, from 10.8 per 100,000 residents (August 20–26) to 20 (September 28 – October 4), putting it firmly at risk of being taken off the UK’s ‘safe’ list – something which has already happened to a long list of countries, forcing Britons to do a mad dash back home to avoid a 14-day quarantine.
Greece too isn’t looking so rosy, with the islands of Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zante now all off limits. With the rule of six now in force in England, and even harsher restrictions in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, a domestic holiday may not be that appealing either.
Testing may be the answer. Opt for one of the destinations on the FCDO’s safe list that requires a pre-arrival test, and you’ll find your options broaden exponentially. Places like Cyprus, and a wealth of other Caribbean islands are all open to tourists, provided they have a negative Covid test upon arrival.
For many though, the thought of organising a Covid test not just for themselves but for their entire family, is a daunting prospect. In reality however, it’s not as arduous a prospect as you might think. Below we outline the entire process for a family, from how invasive the tests are, to the extra costs and time involved.
How do they work?
Two options are available. Either you can order a home test, and carry it out yourself, or book an appointment at a clinic for a professional to do it. Home kits need to be sent back the same day they arrive – upon receipt by the company, they will be analysed in a lab and you should receive your results within 48 hours, though various companies have different guarantees. The test itself is relatively simple to carry out, involving a swab at the back of the throat and in a nostril. Clear instructions are always provided and can also be found online.
If your test is negative, you should then be sent a certificate stating you are Covid-free, for you to present to border officials. You will need to obtain this privately and not use the NHS’s free service, with the FCDO expressly stating that you “should not use the NHS testing service to get a test in order to facilitate your travel to another country”.
Unfortunately, as there is no standardised certificate, it is not always clear how much information is required in each country – be sure to check information will be on your certificate before purchasing a test. At a minimum, you’ll need the date you were tested and when the sample was processed, your name and address, date of birth, and contact details for both the laboratory and the company.
Is it a different process for children?
“Testing families is not an issue unless you have energetic children that aren’t very compliant with having a swab in their nose and throat,” said Nick Burnett of C19 Testing, a company that offers the PCR test.
“On a serious note, the new Covid PCR swabs with a snap off cotton tip should be administered carefully from a safety perspective but we haven’t had any issues with it as parents are good with this.”
“The swabbing process is the same as with adults so instructions should be adhered to in order to reduce any risk of an inconclusive result,” he added.
Luckily, some destinations, like Cyprus, don’t require children under the age of 12 to take a test, which is good news for parents with particularly swab-averse children.
How much does it cost?
“Testing for either well-being or travel purposes incurs a significant cost even before you step out of your front door,” said Burnett. Despite the current cost of a private test – around £150 – Burnett is “confident that in time these costs will reduce significantly and make the tests much more accessible so we can help get the country back on a stable footing.”
Expect costs to be above £100 a head at a minimum – which isn’t a dreadful amount in comparison to a worry-free holiday in the sun. Beware of paying too much however. Some tests are available online for as much as £500. This is far too much, with Burnett warning that some unscrupulous companies are engaging in “exploitative pricing”. While C19 is unfortuntely not currrently offering tests to new customers due to shortages, Lets Get Checked offers a test and official lab report for £124 (letsgetchecked.com), while DocTap (doctap.co.uk), another option, charges £139 all in.
As a guide, there seems to be a pricing consensus of around £150 for tests that return results within 48 hours, with steep rises for shorter time frames. When selecting your test, check to see if doctors are involved and happy to put their name behind the company – it’s unlikely a medical professional will allow profiteering and unaccredited lab analysis to happen on their watch.
“I wouldn’t be involved if the company wasn’t honest, transparent and evidence-based,” said Dr Alasdair Scott, a doctor involved with C19 Testing.
How long do tests take to arrive?
The issue with testing is largely timing. The time frame you’ll have to take your test and obtain your certificate ranges from a generous seven days (St Lucia, Bermuda) to five days (St Vincent and the Grenadines), 72 hours (Cyprus, Dominica, Barbados) and even a scant 48 hours (Seychelles) before flying. For instance, if you are getting in a 9am flight to Cyprus on October 20, you will need to take a PCR test no earlier than 9am on October 17, giving you three days to receive your results and certificate.
Thankfully, private tests are generally speedy and reliable. An at-home test should arrive within 24 hours of ordering. Be careful of wording around result times though – a quick Google brought up many companies offering test results that ‘typically arrive within’ 24 to 72 hours, but, crucially, don’t ‘guarantee’ it.
C19 Testing guarantees that you’ll receive your result certificate within 48 hours of receiving your swab in their laboratory, while DocTap promises ‘results within 70 hours or your money back’. The Private Harley Street Clinic (privateharleystreetclinic.com), which offers tests for £250, gets ‘90 per cent of results back to people inside 24 hours’.
Should I book my flight on a certain day?
Quite a few labs and clinics are closed on Sundays, which should be taken into consideration. If a destination requires a test be taken within 72 or 48 hours prior to departure, booking flights on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday is inadvisable. Flying Thursday to Sunday is safest.
If you have booked a Monday or Tuesday flight, however, don’t despair. Weekend testing is still available. C-19’s lab “processes samples 24/7”, so it makes no difference when you order and return your test from them.
A few companies also offer same-day results. The London General Practice (thelondongeneralpractice.com) offers test dispatch 24 hours a day, seven days a week and promises results the same day – if swabs are returned by 7am. The downside is the price of £315.
Which destinations can I go to?
The UK is currently in Cyprus’ Category B: this means that tourists are permitted to travel to Cyprus, but they need to provide a negative test on arrival, obtained within 72 hours before travel. Test results can be in the form of an email or SMS, but the test result itself and appointment letter must include the date and time when the test was taken.
Children under 12 years old do not require a test in order to travel to Cyprus.
Barbados’ borders are open to tourists, but UK travellers have now been deemed higher risk. This means that UK travellers must ‘arrive with a negative PCR test taken by a certified or accredited laboratory within 72 hours of arrival’. The first few days of holiday must be spent in, luckily quite leisurely, quarantine at government approved facilities – either a designated hotel or approved villa at your own expense, or a government facility free of charge. A further test will be taken five days after the initial test, and if negative, you will be free to travel around the island.
Visitors must also complete and submit an online immigrationform 24 hours prior to travel (travelform.gov.bb/home)
Direct flights between St Lucia and the UK restarted on July 25 with BA – two flights a week are currency running. A pre-arrival registration form must be completed prior to arrival to the island (stlucia.org/en_UK/covid-19). A PCR Covid test must be taken seven days or less before travel, with negative results provided before boarding a flight. Visitors will need to show proof they will be staying in a COVID-19 certified hotel upon arrival.
St Vincent and the Grenadines
All travellers must complete a pre-arrival questionnaire and arrive with a negative result of a PCR Covid test, done no more than five days before arrival. Visitors will then be tested again upon arrival and must quarantine for five days in a Tourism Authority approved ‘quarantine hotel’ at their own expense. Proof for both the reservation and (again, approved) transfer must be provided. Another test will be done on either the fourth or fifth day of quarantine. If this final test is also negative, visitors will be free to roam around the island at leisure.
Direct flights are not operating to St Vincent and the Grenadines, but it is possible to transfer via Barbados with Fly One Caribbean.
The Seychelles requires a Covid test to be carried out ‘no more than 48 hours before departure’. The negative test result must be presented upon arrival, but your airline may ask to see it before boarding. Visitors will then stay at a designated hotel of their choice for a five day quarantine – upon completion and receipt of a negative result of another Covid test, they will be free to travel the island.
Visitors to Dominica must complete an online questionnaire 24 hours before arrival, and have a PCR test with a negative result taken up to 72 hours before arrival. A further ‘rapid diagnostic’ test will be taken on arrival. If negative, visitors will only need to complete a five day quarantine in an approved facility of their choice. Note: another PCR test is required to depart Dominica.
Visitors must apply for a Bermuda COVID-19 Travel Authorisation one to three days before departure, which costs $75 per adult and $30 per child (nine-years-old and under). Extensive instructions are provided on the government website (gov.bm/coronavirus-travellers-visitors). Visitors must also provide proof of a negative PCR test taken no more than 7 days before departure – you will need to have your results before filling in the Travel Authorisation form.