Passengers arriving back in England today claimed their passenger locator forms were not checked after a change in the rules forced them to buy a PCR test.
Families’ testing bills have been sent soaring as people desperately search for rapid PCR swab providers after the new curbs came into force at 4am today.
The rule means all fully vaccinated travellers must return to taking costly PCR tests – which they today blasted as ‘too expensive’ – within two days of arriving in the UK.
The move, in response to the Omicron variant, comes only a month after PCR swabs were ditched in favour of cheaper rapid lateral flow tests for the double-jabbed.
Under the new rules, travellers must also self-isolate at home until receiving their results – with many trying to work out how to make this period as short as possible.
The quickest turnaround test provided at London Heathrow Airport is the ‘ExpressTest’ by Cignpost which costs from £69 for next-day results by 10pm.
But travellers have also been sharing tips with each other on a small number of providers offering a three-hour turnaround on a PCR – with one Harley Street clinic approved by Gov.UK offering one by a medical professional for a whopping £395.
Some also noticed three-hour tests are offered by Cignpost for £119 in the Heathrow departures area, but the firm told MailOnline these were not available for arrivals.
At Birmingham Airport today, multiple passengers claimed that their passenger locator forms which have details of their booked PCR test were not checked by immigration officials – an allegation MailOnline has put to the Home Office.
One, Cheryl Wright, 67, who was returning from Dubai, said: ‘This bug is still here – if we have to have a swab in our mouths every so often and wear a mask then so be it.
Cheryl Wright (left), 67, who was returning from Dubai at Birmingham Airport today, said: ‘What I don’t like is that I spent an hour and a half filling in a passenger locator form, and they didn’t even check it – nobody has looked at anything.’ Justyna Nowskowska (right), 36, also arriving at Birmingham but from Poland, added: ‘My only concern is the price… too expensive’
Yasa Waseem (left), 44, a risk analyst returning from Dubai at Birmingham Airport, said: ‘On immigration control, they don’t even ask or look as to if you have booked your PCR test.’ And James MacPherson (right), 33, from Birmingham, said: ‘I now have to self isolate for two days. If I am honest it is utter b*****ks. I have had a test before I went to Dubai, a test while I am there, another now I am back’
‘Despite this, it does make you think would a short trip away be really worth it because of the paperwork.
Ms Wright, from Leicester, who is a retired practice manager in a GP surgery, added: ‘What I don’t like is that I spent an hour and a half filling in a passenger locator form, and they didn’t even check it – nobody has looked at anything.’
Another passenger arriving at Birmingham was Michelle Renee, 63, who is originally from the US but now lives in Leamington Spa. She did not need to follow the PCR rules because she had come in from Ireland
She continued: ‘I am travelling home in a taxi today, just me. It is the best thing to do. You are sectioned off from the taxi driver, there are open windows, etc.
‘I know some people have travelled by trains, I wouldn’t do that. Why mix with other people even though you should be self-isolating? Silly.’
Yasa Waseem, 44, a risk analyst also returning from Dubai, said: ‘I had to book mine before I departed – as well as all the forms to fill out. Now, I have to isolate until Thursday.
‘It annoys me. I have done loads of tests before I arrive back. I am going to a taxi back home. I want to minimise the people I come in to contact with.
‘The things is, we have filled out all these forms, done lateral flow tests, and when I arrived back in Birmingham today, they don’t even check.
‘On immigration control, they don’t even ask or look as to if you have booked your PCR test – I don’t know how they are going to monitor it.
‘Saying that, I do understand the concept behind it. But, if they are going to go forward with PCR and self-isolation, they need to monitor it properly.
People wait to check in for British Airways flights at London Heathrow Airport this morning
‘At the moment, you are booking, they are taking the money from you and no one is asking for proof. If I wanted, I could go anywhere now and presumably they wouldn’t know. ‘
What are the new test rules for UK arrivals?
From 4am today, fully-vaccinated people entering the UK are required to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test taken on the second day after they arrive.
The tests must be bought from the private sector, with the current average cost of more than 450 providers at £83.
Previously fully-vaccinated travellers were only required to take a cheaper lateral flow test, and did not need to self-isolate unless they received a positive result.
People who are unvaccinated will continue to need one pre-departure test and two post-arrival PCR tests, and must quarantine for 10 days.
Ten African countries have been added to the UK’s red list since Friday.
Arrivals from those locations must stay in a quarantine hotel for ten days at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.
Meanwhile James MacPherson, 33, from Birmingham, who works in the video games industry, said: ‘I have travelled from Dubai. I have my PCR test booked in.
‘I am unvaccinated, so I have had to lots of lateral flow tests in Dubai before coming back to the UK. I found out that the PCR tests were coming back in while I was in Dubai – luckily, I had already booked it. It wasn’t an issue.
‘I now have to self isolate for two days. If I am honest it is utter b*****ks. I have had a test before I went to Dubai, a test while I am there, another now I am back.
‘I have had Covid, and, I feel, that natural immunity is better than having the vaccine. It is a waste of everybody’s time. They have brought these new guidelines in because of a new mild strain. I don’t understand why we’re having to go back through this again.
Justyna Nowskowska, 36, a housekeeper from Birmingham, added: ‘I have travelled from Poland. We have our PCR tests booked. The tests are at home.
‘I was in Poland when I found out the news, but we need to have these PCR tests back in for people arriving in the UK. A lot of people are still not wearing masks.
‘Even people on the planes were not wearing their masks. You can see why new strains happen. My only concern is the price: for a family it has cost me over £100 – too expensive.
‘My husband is going to pick me up, I have just been on a plane and if I’m honest I don’t want to be around other people. I am now going into self-isolation until I get a negative test. It doesn’t annoy me though. It is important.’
Another passenger arriving at Birmingham was Michelle Renee, 63, who is originally from San Francisco but now lives in Leamington Spa, but she did not need to follow the PCR rules because she had come in from Ireland.
A busy Terminal Five at London Heathrow Airport this morning as passengers wait to check in
People wait in line for flights at Heathrow Airport this morning after the testing rules changed
She said: ‘I have travelled from Dublin today. It was interesting hearing that the PCR tests had been brought back in.
‘I did not have to do a locator form or a PCR test, which was surprising. I was all ready to be a PCR test, I was prepared but then it looked like I didn’t have to in the end because I have travelled within the CTA (the common travel area) – that was hard to figure out though: am I meant to buy one, should I buy one?
‘I arrived early just in case I had to. I have a boyfriend here, and he is coming to pick me up. So, I am not going to on public transport – I still need to be cautious.’
The changes to the rules have raised fears of travellers being stuck in self-isolation if testing firms become overwhelmed by demand and results do not arrive on time.
There are also fears people could be unknowingly carrying Covid-19 even if they test negative upon their arrival, because the virus will not have had to time to incubate.
Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon has urged Boris Johnson to extend self-isolation rules for all UK arrivals from two to eight days – but the Prime Minister is unwilling to do this.
Quarantine hotels were also re-introduced on Sunday. It means anyone arriving from ten countries in southern Africa on the ‘red list’ must quarantine in hotel rooms for eleven nights on return at a cost of £2,285.
Health minister Edward Argar insisted Britons should not react by cancelling any foreign Christmas holidays, but accept a renewed ‘element of risk’ when travelling.
He said: ‘We’re not saying cancel your holidays to France or other countries, but we have put in place that proportionate testing and border control.
‘We cannot say what will happen there over the coming weeks, and in travelling at the moment with this virus, particularly with a new variant around, there is an element of risk.’
But the former chief of IAG, which owns British Airways, warned that tougher restrictions have been ‘completely ineffective in the past’.
Willie Walsh, who now runs industry body the International Air Transport Association, said: ‘I’m very disappointed to see this knee-jerk reaction by governments to the latest development.’
Speaking to the BBC, he added: ‘It’s clear that these measures have been completely ineffective in the past but impose huge hardship on people who are trying to connect with families and friends, and clearly massive financial damage to the tourism and airline industry.’
He said the failure of similar measures to prevent a second Covid wave in the UK after being implemented in May 2020 showed they ‘do not have any long-term benefits’ and are ‘not the answer’.
In the Commons, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said ministers won’t keep the new measures in place ‘for a day longer than necessary’ if the Omicron variant turns out not to be as dangerous as feared.
They will be reviewed in three weeks when more is known about the mutant strain.
Calls grew yesterday to cap the cost of PCR tests, axe VAT on them or allow travellers to use free NHS ones to stop families being priced out of trips abroad this Christmas.
The average cost of a single swab among more than 450 providers listed on the Government website yesterday was £82.
For a family of five this would add £410 to the cost of a trip abroad. By comparison, rapid lateral flow tests are typically about £20 to £25.
Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the cross-party Future of Aviation Group of MPs, said: ‘It is essential the Government ensures that we avoid the profiteering that we have previously seen and that any rogue providers are prevented from exploiting those travelling over the next few weeks.
‘The Government must as a matter of urgency focus on the cost of testing and, as a minimum, consider removing VAT and explore options to bring the cost of testing down to a minimum or ideally free of charge.’
Former aviation minister Paul Maynard said: ‘Government must learn previous lessons on ensuring the market works fairly and prices are capped so families don’t face a hefty and unpleasant bill for tests.’
Huw Merriman, chair of the Commons transport committee, tackled Mr Javid over the issue in the Commons, calling for ‘accurate, good value testing’.
He said problems seen this summer with ‘rip off’ prices and travellers not receiving swabs or results on time – if at all – must be avoided.
Mr Javid replied: ‘We do want to minimise impact on our excellent transport and travel sector and he’s right to raise the importance of making sure PCR tests are available, the pricing is correct and that the Government website where they’re listed is properly monitored so if anyone breaks the rules they are de-listed.’