Boots has announced that it will start selling rapid coronavirus tests in selected stores within a matter of weeks.
As an increasing number of countries require UK arrivals to provide evidence of a recent negative Covid test, we examine what the potentially game-changing move means for holidaymakers.
The £120 tests will be processed by an in-store machine and return results in just 12 minutes. They involve a simple nasal swab and have been shown to be 97 per cent accurate in trials. Boots has stated that the service will be aimed at those who have no symptoms of the virus but want some peace of mind. The speedy test, which is significantly faster than others currently being trialled, has been developed by diagnostics firm LumiraDx, which has also done a £6.76 million deal to supply NHS Scotland.
The news has raised hopes for holidaymakers looking for a faster way to prove that they are Covid-free, after incidents of overloaded labs and inconclusive or delayed test results have led to cancelled holidays. As many countries only allow a small window for the test to be taken, the new quick service could mean less pre-holiday stress with no lengthy wait for results.
However, it appears that many destinations won’t accept the rapid results as evidence that you are Covid-free. Certain countries, such as Cyprus, the Maldives and a number of Caribbean islands, specify that the evidence shown at the border must be from lab-analysed PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which are able to detect the virus’s genetic material and are considered to be the most sensitive. These are the tests used by the NHS and most other private testing companies, and generally it takes at least 24 hours to receive results.
In contrast, the new Boots service uses antigen tests that identify specific proteins on the surface of the virus. Still, it seems that the tests could be used when travelling to the likes of Italy or Germany, which currently accept antigen test results. Do note however that countries often change their entry restrictions rapidly and without warning, so it is essential to check the latest FCDO advice before booking a test and travelling.
For a safer bet, the high-street chemist has also launched a 48-hour PCR testing service that is suitable for travellers. The service is currently available at 10 stores in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with plans to roll it out to more than 50 outlets across the country.
The tests must be booked online before and are a good alternative for those who don’t want to administer their own test. Like the rapid test, it also costs £120, which is a relatively competitive price – some at-home test kits are available online for as much as £500.
Boots’s announcement comes a week after Heathrow launched pre-departure testing facilities at two terminals for passengers flying to Hong Kong and Italy. This service, priced at £80, aims to simplify travel and returns results in just an hour. It encounters a similar stumbling block to Boots’ rapid option, however, as it employs Lamp (Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification) tests, which are not accepted by certain destinations. Nevertheless, this could change as testing for travel becomes more commonplace and the demand for a quick turnaround increases.