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expert reaction to new system announced for international travel, including from the end of October fully vaccinated passengers being able to replace day 2 PCR tests with lateral flow tests, and no longer needing to take pre-departure tests

The government have announced a new system for international travel restrictions relating to COVID-19.


Prof Sheila Bird, Formerly Programme Leader, MRC Biostatistics Unit, University of Cambridge, said:

“PCR on return to UK is essential for tracking of newly imported variants.  UK is possibly less concerned about the risks its citizens export and hence outward bound travellers from UK – at their own expense – must meet the requirements of the countries that that they intend to visit.

“On return, UK citizens’ right to, and requirement for, access asymptomatic PCR-testing should be the same (i.e. at no additional cost) as for other UK citizens who are considered as potentially high-risk contacts (for example, because of having been recently exposed to an index case of SARS-CoV-2).

“LFTs under-detect asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections.  If the returned UK citizen is LFT-positive, PCR-adjudication is necessary anyway – not least to enable ct-values of PCR-positive & genomic analysis (if and only if ct-value less than 30).

“Baby thrown out with bath-water comes to mind.  LFTs are not the answer; UK plc-funded PCR testing of UK-citizens on return from overseas travel may be; and, for visitors to UK, low-cost approved-PCR-testing.  Have we learned nothing from Delta’s incursions into UK?”


Dr Simon Clarke, Associate Professor in Cellular Microbiology, University of Reading, said:

“The changes to the rules on quarantine and testing for international travellers are a relaxation that will inevitably increase the risk of bringing in more infections from abroad.

“Those who are double vaccinated are less likely to have an infection, but it should be remembered that the risk is not zero.

“Given the fact that community transmission within the UK is still running at a high level, it seems churlish to put high barriers in the way of international travel when the risks of catching covid at home are relatively high.

“With infection rates as high as they are in the UK, and with vaccines offering good but not perfect protection, you may be as likely to pick up covid from a trip to Torquay as a trip to Turkey.

“The changes to the rules on testing are also a relaxation, but the more accurate PCR tests should be used to confirm results of the quicker and cheaper lateral flow tests.”


Prof Lawrence Young, Professor of Molecular Oncology, University of Warwick, said:

“The main concern is what this means for virus genomic sequencing.  How will we ensure that those who test positive on a lateral flow test isolate and take a PCR test?  It is likely that this approach will reduce our ability to efficiently monitor the introduction of new variants into the country.  We know that fully vaccinated individuals can get infected and spread the virus.  We also know that previous waves of infection have been fuelled by returning travellers.  Letting our guard down runs the risk of bringing a new variant into the country, such as the mu variant first identified in Colombia, which could reduce the effectiveness of current vaccines.”


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Prof Sheila Bird: “SMB is member of RSS COVID-19 Taskforce and of RSS Working Party on Diagnostic Tests, please see”

None other received.

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