Travellers will be issued with free Covid tests to take abroad under plans to help make foreign holidays a reality.
Whitehall sources told the Mail that fast-turnaround tests would be made available free of charge to people travelling abroad to cut the hassle and expense of getting a pre-return test in a foreign country.
However, in a decision that will dismay the travel industry, people returning from abroad will still have to pay for a gold-standard PCR test when they get home, at a cost of at least £50 each.
Boris Johnson will confirm on Friday that the blanket ban on foreign holidays will be lifted on May 17, but sources said quarantine-free travel would be restricted initially to a ‘very small’ number of low-risk countries.
Travellers will be issued with free Covid tests to take abroad as international travel begins once more. Pictured: Tourists enjoying a harbour cruise in Valletta, Malta
Pictured: A student takes a swab for a lateral flow Covid test at the University of Hull
Concerns remain that the cost of testing could prove prohibitive for many hoping to get a summer break abroad.
The Prime Minister said last month that he was determined to ‘make things as flexible and as affordable as possible’, adding that: ‘I do want to see international travel start up again.’
Health chiefs have put their foot down about the requirement for all travellers to take a PCR test after returning home, as this is the only test able to detect so-called variants of concern which could undermine the vaccine programme.
However, they have relented on the issue of pre-flight tests. At present, all travellers must have a test conducted under supervision no more than three days before they fly home.
Under the new plans, to be unveiled on Friday, they will be offered a fast-turnaround ‘lateral flow’ test to pack in their suitcase.
A source said that health officials were now satisfied that these self-administered tests, of the type used in schools, would be sufficient.
The move came as fresh concerns were raised by the travel industry about the cost of testing.
Research by industry body the International Air Transport Association found the average minimum cost of a ‘gold standard’ PCR test across 16 countries was £65. Meanwhile the average maximum cost was £150.
Pictured: A member of staff at Heath Mount school in Hertfordshire performs a lateral flow test
Pictured: A student takes a lateral flow test at Weaverham High School in Cheshire
One £65 PCR test alone would hike the cost of the average £144 one-way airline ticket by 45 per cent, it warned.
IATA’s director-general and former British Airways chief Willie Walsh said there was ‘strong demand’ for foreign travel after more than a year of lockdowns. But he warned it could be ‘perilously compromised by testing costs’.
At present, foreign holidays are illegal, punishable by a £5,000 fine. From May 17, travellers to ‘green list’ countries will not have to quarantine on return. But they will have to take a pre-flight test and a further test when they get home.
Those travelling to ‘amber list’ destinations will have to quarantine at home for ten days on return. They will also have to take two costly PCR tests when they get home, as well as the pre-flight test.
Direct travel from ‘red list’ states such as South Africa, India and Brazil will remain banned.
Those who do travel will have to undergo quarantine in a hotel at a cost of £1,750, as well as taking two tests on return.
It came after the European Union said it will open its borders to non-EU countries with successful vaccination programmes and low infection rates such as the UK.
It aims to drop the EU-wide ban for UK holidaymakers and accept vaccinated Britons from June.
People with proof of a negative test would also be able to enter the bloc for leisure travel.