A ‘fit to travel’ Covid certificate is the new holiday must-have, but obtaining a PCR test can be expensive, time consuming and complicated. Is it any wonder, then, that reports are emerging of illegal counterfeit certificates?
On the black market, a forged Covid test certificate can cost as little as £50, according to an investigation by the Lancashire Telegraph – which found that some travel agents in Bradford and Blackburn are allegedly offering fake paperwork to clients.
Speaking anonymously, one traveller explained: “We needed a Covid-19 test for a family member and I spoke to one travel agent and he said, ‘Get it done and even if it comes out positive we will provide a negative one for you for £50’.”
Others have boasted of tampering with certificates themselves – which were later accepted by airlines and overseas border control. “It is quite simple,” said one Blackburn-based traveller, who claimed he flew to Pakistan and entered the country with forged paperwork. “Everyone knows someone who has had a Covid test. You can simply get their negative test and change the name and birthdate to your own.
“You also put a test date on which is within the time limit required. You download the email, change it and then print it.”
Of course, such actions are strictly illegal – but can it really be that easy? International criminal cases suggest not. In Uganda last week, 23 people were arrested at Entebbe Airport for allegedly boarding a plane with forged Covid test documents. Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, staff at two public hospitals and laboratories were found guilty of supplying counterfeit certificates for as little as US$20.
There have been allegations of test forgery in Nigeria, too. “I [had] a valid entry visa to the UAE that was about to expire,” one traveller told the Nigeria Guardian. “That is where I work and have my family too. It was a desperate situation. I got a call from someone who offered to help edit the date of the old Covid-19 test [I had taken with a negative result]. I paid some money and was able to fly.”
And in Kerala, India, hundreds of Dubai-bound travellers were stranded at the airport last month after a private laboratory was found to have been issuing negative results without processing the tests. Its staff had collected 2,621 samples, but sent only 421 for testing.
But despite most destinations and airlines now requiring proof of a negative test result from all visitors or passengers, there is no international template – and no standardised certificate, even across British test providers.
There is an acute need to rectify this, says Avi Lasarow, CEO of Prenetics, a lab integrated to securely share COVID-19 test results via the CommonPass ‘health pass’ app, which was trialled on a flight between New York and London last week: “Trying to get a common framework for a health pass would, before the pandemic, have entailed endless bureaucracy – but now, there is an urgency for these solutions.
“Unless there is a vaccine, testing will be an ongoing need – potentially on a daily basis. The concept of CommonPass is to enable a framework for international travel, where testing certificates between two providers can be recognised across borders.”
Until then, travellers must rely on low-tech documentation – of the strictly legal variety, of course. “My test certificate came through as a PDF,” says Telegraph Travel’s Greg Dickinson, who documented his pre-travel test for us last week. “In my instance, I’m travelling to St Lucia, which requires a test certificate taken up to seven days before arrival. As well as printing off your results to show officials before departure and on arrival, you also need to email your results documents [to government officials] prior to travel.
“They may well have a process of checking for doctored documents on their end, so I really wouldn’t recommend people trying their luck on this front.”