UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has promised to lower the cost of coronavirus testing to help encourage foreign holidays this summer, as he accused some companies of “profiteering” from peoples’ desperation to travel.
The government on Friday set out a road map to reopening international travel for England. Countries will be graded using a green, amber and red traffic light system from next month to prepare for a possible resumption of holidays from May 17 at the earliest. Shapps said people should not be put off booking.
“I am not advising against booking foreign holidays . . . for the first time I think there is light at the end of the tunnel and we will be able to restart international travel,” he told the BBC.
But holidaymakers will need to pay for expensive PCR tests when they return, to help the government track any new variants of coronavirus that might be brought back into the country.
PCR tests, which unlike cheaper lateral flow tests identify the virus’ genetic material, can cost around £100, with prices more than double that in some clinics in London.
Shapps said he would work with testing companies to lower prices after complaints that the extra cost could put many people off booking foreign holidays.
“I think the cost should be cheaper for those private tests, I’ll be driving that down in the next couple of weeks where we can,” Shapps said.
“I won’t spare those companies that seem to be profiteering, including potentially removing them from the recommended list [of suppliers],” he said.
But David Evans, chief executive of testing company Collinson, said he has had to adapt to changing government standards and reinvests most revenue back into new testing products.
“At the moment there is a huge amount of uncertainty for the summer, so we have to allow for the constant changes in our pricing,” he said.
An executive at one testing company that has been on the governments’ list of recommended providers from the start described Shapps’ comments as “ridiculous” and pointed out that the NHS is currently charging £210 for two tests.
The government “ought to look at itself” before accusing others of pricing too highly, he said.
He added that there was “no profiteering” in charging more than £100 for a test. “Companies like us are trying really hard to drive our prices down, to try to make it as cheap as possible,” he said. “There’s no fat margin there.”
“The easiest way for [the government] to drive the charges down is make them VAT free — that would be 25 per cent off the price right away.”