Ministers are refusing to say when cheap, swift lateral flow tests will replace PCRs for arriving travellers to the UK.
On Thursday the health secretary, Sajid Javid, repeated a government promise on switching to cheaper, faster tests, saying: “We’re now making it easier and cheaper for people to travel by allowing fully vaccinated travellers from non-red list countries to use lateral flow tests on day two of arrival, as long as they provide proof of use.”
But vaccinated travellers are no closer to knowing when in the next three weeks the switch will take place.
Speaking on BBC Today, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “I don’t have a date for you as yet. I know my colleagues over at the Department of Health and Border Force are working very hard on implementing that, and hopefully in time for people returning from half-term holidays potentially, and certainly by the end of October.”
Half-term in most schools in England and Wales ends over the weekend of 30 and 31 October, but some return a week earlier.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, said: “We desperately need to know the exact date so families can plan for the half-term break.”
Mr Shapps said:“The important part of this is making sure that the industry itself is able to provide the tests, and quite a big switch from them from supplying hundreds of thousands of PCR tests and providing those lateral flow test.
“It looks like the market is ready to do that.”
The transport secretary also said: “An image upload will be required, so there’ll be a snap, a picture of it required, so I think it’s making sure that that’s properly in place.”
Mr Shapps addressed concerns from medical figures about downgrading the test for arrivals, saying: “Double vaccinated people are much less likely to carry variants of concern for one thing, and then secondly the advances in lateral flow tests mean that although they weren’t thought of as being as good previously in perhaps picking it up, a lot of that’s changed.
“The sensitivity and specificity has improved on those tests. The other big advantage with a lateral flow is they’re instant or very nearly – in 15 minutes you’ve got a result.
“That means we have fewer people potentially out and about for a day or so before they get their results.”
He said a further announcement would be made by the Department of Health “very soon”.
Many prospective holidaymakers have expressed frustration that the government has announced a significant, cash-saving downgrade of its testing rules yet will not say when it takes effect.
But travellers to the UK can reduce the risk that they will buy unnecessarily expensive PCR tests by waiting to make the required booking until a few hours before departure.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies