COVID BORDER CHAOSConfusion Over Recording and Enforcing of ‘Day Two’ Travel Tests
John Lubbock reports on his efforts to extract Coronavirus travel testing data from the Government
When a traveller arrives in the UK from another country, they must purchase a ‘Day 2’ test – to prove whether or not they have COVID-19. This provides a reference number that can be used to complete a ‘Passenger Locator Form’. But how do we know that these tests are being completed, and that COVID-positive travellers aren’t slipping through the cracks in the ‘Test and Trace’ system?
I had arrived back in the UK from Italy in September and accidentally booked a test that had to be taken in person in Liverpool. I didn’t go to the test and nobody contacted me. The next time I returned from Italy in October, I booked another test with the same company, Randox. Again, nobody contacted me after I failed to complete the test.
I took free, Government-supplied tests in both cases to ensure I didn’t have COVID-19, which is technically against the rules (travel tests must be purchased from a private provider).
I emailed a number of private testing companies to ask whose obligation it was to report the results of these tests.
One firm – Cignpost ExpressTest – said that, according to section nine of the Department of Health and Social Care’s guidance on Day 2 tests, “providers must complete a daily sales report, which includes date of arrival, type of test and a unique reference number for that test. If a result is not received within the required time period, UKHSA will then follow up with the traveller directly”.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) is a new body that has taken over some of the functions of Public Health England (PHE), and is now responsible for UK-wide public health protection and infectious disease capability.
UKHSA said: “Providers are only required to report to UKHSA the results of tests which are taken. The requirement to take tests sits with the individual. Passengers must upload a photo of their LFD (Lateral Flow Device) test to verify results as soon as possible, with free confirmatory NHS PCRs for any positive cases. If a photo of the LFD result is not uploaded, the UK Government will be alerted, the traveller will be registered as non-compliant and could be fined.”
However, the UKHSA does not appear to gather data on the number of people registered as non-compliant.
When I asked how many passengers had not completed a Day 2 test or had been fined, a spokesperson said: “Unfortunately, we don’t have that data available to share. We are not in charge of issuing travellers with fines so that may be something you can find out from border force or the Home Office.”
But the Home Office could not shed much light either. I asked the same question – whether the department had any data on fines and non-compliance – only to be passed back to UKHSA and told that it was its responsibility.
I continued chasing the DHSC for a statement on whether and how Day 2 testing was being monitored and enforced, and was told that the UKHSA would provide a statement. Despite chasing for more than two weeks, there has been no response from UKHSA.
“We have made the guidance clear that Day 2 testing is compulsory for people coming into the country, that’s what the law is,” a DHSC spokesperson said.
When I asked Randox why they had not followed up with me about my uncompleted Day 2 tests, a spokesperson said: “As an accredited testing provider, Randox fully complies with the many data requests required by Government associated with Day 2 testing.”
A Profitable System
It seems as though no one has responsibility for policing the Day 2 testing system – not the private providers, the Home Office, the DHSC or the UKHSA.
Ultimately, these tests are a highly profitable line of work. An estimated 4.5 million people arrived in the UK by air in October 2021. If each of these passengers paid £25 for a Day 2 test, private testing companies will have made more than £111 million in a single month.
Allowing COVID travel testing to be run by private companies, rather than the NHS, means that the results of tests are not being reported properly – or are not being taken at all. The evidence suggests that the Government has no idea how many people have entered the UK without taking a Day 2 test or – if the Government does know – it is not sure where the data exists.
With the new Omicron variant currently raising concerns that a new wave of the disease will sweep through the UK, it is alarming that no Government department or agency seems to know which is responsible for making sure travellers complete a Day 2 test.
Neither the Home Office, the DHSC nor the UKHSA could say whether there are any plans to monitor compliance with Day 2 testing in future.