3 min read1 hr
Health secretary Sajid Javid is facing tough questions over why the level of genome sequencing of costly PCR tests for Brits returning from abroad has been so low in the last six months.
Conservative MP and chair of the Commons transport select committee, Huw Merriman, has said that considering the sequencing element of a PCR is being used by ministers to justify their use in travel policy this summer, the government should explain why so little of it has taken place.
In a three-page letter to the health secretary, the Tory MP wrote that the percentage of tests being sent for sequencing has fallen from 49% in early March to just 5% in early July, equating to 354 sequences out of a total of nearly 7,000 Covid positive samples.
“The most recent data also shows the sequencing of passengers from red countries, four percent, was no higher than for arrivals from green, at four percent, and amber country countries [at] six percent,” Merriman wrote.
He suggested the Joint Biosecurity Centre explain the basis of the government requiring all international travelers to take the tests considering they are significantly holding back international travel.
“There needs to be a clear and compelling justification for continuing to mandate the use of PCR tests,” he said, suggeting that so far it has cost people £150 million in the past five months.
He has called on the Department of Health and Social Care to respond to his queries by 24 August.
In early July only 5% of Covid positive test results were sequenced despite the government putting France on the amber plus status list, he said.
Other questions for Javid include what steps were taken to prepare sequencing capacity for the reopening of international travel, and if they will prioritise sequencing of international test results over domestic cases.
The high cost, poor quality and lack of sequencing from PCR tests needs to be urgently addressed by Government. They are an unnecessary barrier to affordable #InternationalTravel. I’ve written to Sajid Javid to set out the case and seek answers. pic.twitter.com/8ZhZCRSRvG
— Huw Merriman MP (@HuwMerriman) August 11, 2021
It comes as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote to MPs to say that costs of the tests will be considered ahead of the final checkpoint of the government’s global travel taskforce, which isn’t until October 1 – seven weeks away.
Shapps wrote on August 6: “Finally, I recognise the cost of testing remains a concern, and we are continuing to work with the travel industry and private testing providers to further reduce the cost of testing. We will also consider the scale of the costs as we prepare for the final Global Travel Taskforce checkpoint in October.”
The the costs of PCR tests, which can be up to £150 for a same day service, should be a concern for government, some Tory backbenchers believe.
Earlier this month Henry Smith, the Conservative chair of the Future of Aviation all-party parliamentary group, told PoliticsHome that the government should consider a price cap, dropping VAT or moving to lateral flow testing.
For those doing the mandatory PCR test on day two of their return from holiday from a green or amber list country, prices were were around £75 when PolHome looked at the government’s list of providers.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe