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‘Shocking’ loophole means UK arrivals can reuse old Covid test booking

Test labs in the UK say process for visiting the country is vulnerable to abuse, risking people’s faith in the reliability of the system to protect against new variants

The system of booking references for Covid tests is open to abuse, says a test lab industry organisation Pic: Noiel / Shutterstock

The leading professional body for testing labs in the UK says it is ‘simply shocking’ that a loophole means that arriving passengers in the UK can re-use the same Covid test booking number on multiple trips.

The Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) states it carried out trials which revealed that it is possible for the same reference number for a day two Covid test booked in the UK to be entered on the obligatory UK Passenger Locator Form (PLF) on multiple trips, and that no checks are done to prevent this.

It comes as The Connexion was told by one Briton in France that she had done this, in this case so as to avoid mounting costs due to multiple visits to the UK to see her sick mother who later died - and then to organise the funeral. 

However, according to LTIO, there is nothing to stop anyone doing it to avoid paying for tests (prices quoted by providers for these vary widely, from £15 for a self-swab test from certain providers to over £100 for some in-person tests by a professional).

We note that if people were to do this they would also have to fail to comply with the obligation to take a test on or before day two after arrival, and self-isolate until having the positive result. 

However recent visitors to the UK do not report that checks were made at any stage on their having actually done their Covid tests and obtained results.

The LTIO says it ran checks recently by completing trial PLFs for a variety of different journeys to the UK, entering the same booking number each time, which itself had already been used already for a trip to the UK in summer 2021.

It said in a statement it found that the same numbers could be “repeatedly used and are not checked, leaving the entire government system vulnerable to abuse”, calling this finding “simply shocking”.

It added: “A reliable testing system at our borders is vital in the fight against the Omicron variant, but even the most basic check of ensuring that travellers have a genuine PCR test booked is not being completed”.

An LTIO spokesman told The Connexion: “We haven’t had anything back from the Department of Health or the UKHSA on this issue of the registration numbers so far since raising it.

“As far as we’re aware the process hasn’t changed and the issue is still there. It’s important to our members that people should be able to trust the system.”

Concerns have also been raised regarding the widespread use in the UK of home-test kits for arrivals, with many people wondering how authorities can check the kits were used properly, or even by the person claiming to have used the test.

However the LTIO spokesman said: “We’re aware of this, but it works in the same way as the NHS tests that are used in the UK [by UK residents checking their Covid status for various purposes].

“The main point from our members’ point of view is that they are available to help people and provide information on how best to take the test to get accurate results.”

The Connexion asked the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) about the issues but it stated they were a matter for the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), an agency of the ministry responsible for public health protection.

Asked about the issues, UKHSA sources indicated that the agency prioritises protecting the public, that PLFs play an important role safeguarding against new variants, and that it is not permitted to use invalid codes.

If the agency establishes that a person has not complied with testing requirements it would take reasonable and proportionate steps to encourage them to do so, whether by text, phone call or visit, and in some cases people could be fined.

The agency did not respond to queries about how they would identify abuses and if anything specific is being done to avoid them.

The LTIO says it also recently raised the issue of ‘misleading prices’ stated by some providers on the government’s test centre listings, claiming offers from under £1, which have now been removed from the site. The prices were found not to be readily available in reality but often at only one location and in-person on limited dates.

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