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PCR testing: What is it and how does it apply to travellers?

All travellers leaving and entering the UK from non ‘red list’ countries will need to take a PCR test and obtain a negative result. The government has a ‘test and release’ scheme for people wanting to reduce their time in quarantine following entry to the UK.

What is PCR testing?
PCR testing stands for polymerase chain reaction testing. This form of testing is the method many countries and health organisations are using to test people for Covid-19. PCR testing involves assessment of the viruses' genetic information. If a person has the virus, this genetic information (an antigen) will be present in their system. Testing in this way varies from testing the body's antibodies or how the immune system responds and can detect the virus in its very early stages, enabling people to isolate more quickly if they are infected. PCR testing involves many stages and is highly involved and labour intensive in its analysis. As a result, potential errors can occur as samples are taken and analysed. It has been suggested that false positives can occur in up to 30% of testing cases, making PCR testing more effective at determining whether someone is infected with Covid-19, rather than giving them the all-clear of the virus.

You should get yourself PCR tested if you are displaying any symptoms of Covid-19, or if you have been within six feet of a person (for several minutes or more), who has either tested positive for the virus or displayed coronavirus symptoms.

Travelling and PCR tests
Travelling on holiday is currently illegal, but as the government's vaccine rollout gains pace, there will come a time when travelling to another country will be back on the cards. Many countries are asking travellers to submit a negative PCR test up to 72 hours before departing for their destination. As travellers are not allowed to use the free NHS Covid-19 testing service, they must instead arrange for a private test to be taken via a government-recommended coronavirus testing kit provider such as Medicspot. These tests can cost up to £150, which is why airlines and travel companies have joined forces with private testing companies to offer testing at reduced rates, as part of 'Fit to Fly' packages that include a PCR swab test and certificate.

All travellers leaving and entering the UK from non 'red list' countries will need to take a PCR test and obtain a negative result. The government has a 'test and release' scheme for people wanting to reduce their time in quarantine following entry to the UK. Passengers need to purchase a test and receive a negative result in order to reduce their time in quarantine. If a passenger has entered the UK from one of the 'red list' countries with a travel ban, entry to the UK will be denied until they have quarantined for ten days in a designated quarantine hotel.

Travellers who require a negative PCR test result between 72 and 96 hours before travel can order a PCR test up to weeks in advance of their flight and take their test at home. Tests should be ordered no later than five days before departure so that the test can be performed as close to the date of departure as possible (usually 48-96 hours prior, allowing time for the sample to be analysed and results sent). Airports also have PCR swab testing zones for passengers, if they pay a fee. Gatwick airport for example has transformed its Long Stay Car Park into a testing hub to offer fast screening.

Although government measures on Covid-19 testing and rules for travel are continually evolving, as of February 15, 2021, all passengers arriving in the UK must take a PCR test on days two and eight after they arrive, whether they quarantine at home, or have to isolate at a quarantine hotel.

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