Dr Oliver Large on PCR testing and overseas travel.

We are delighted to have the first of what we hope will be many guest posts relevant to our customers and intermediaries. Dr Oliver Large discusses the testing and quarantine requirements currently in place for overseas travel.

Oliver Large is co-Chief Executive Officer, of Avante Health: a Private General Practice that is a government-listed provider of coronavirus testing for international travel. Alongside co-founding Avante, Oliver works as a GP Partner in Buckinghamshire. He has combined his NHS work with previous leadership roles in the digital health sector where he has been at the forefront of digital innovation in primary care. His roles include time as UK medical director at one of Europe’s largest digital health firms.

Flying to the UK during the coronavirus pandemic

Without testing, travelling by air would be a risky business! We have seen the virus – and its variants – spread fast around the globe because of air travel.  It has been in everyone’s interests to make air travel as safe as possible.  Almost all countries have established mandatory requirements for cross border travel. In the case of the UK, this includes requirements for pre-departure testing, post-arrival testing and – for the riskiest countries – quarantine in designated hotels.

Step 1:  Determine your arrival category: are you a ‘Green’, ‘Amber’ or ‘Red’ arrival?

The UK has a ‘Traffic Light System’ with which it categorises countries.  The least risky countries are ‘Green-listed’, the most risky ‘Red-listed’, and in between ‘Amber-listed.  You can find out what ‘list’ your departure country is, and the consequent rule you must follows here. You will need to declare all countries visited in the preceding 10 days, and it is the riskiest of these that will determine your arrival category. Lists can change with short notice, so be careful: you should keep checking the UK lists in the lead up to your travel!

Step 2:  Book and undertake your Pre-flight test in your departure country.

All prospective UK arrivals – except for ‘Common Travel Area’ arrivals – must undertake a pre-departure test.  You must find a local test provider with which to book your tests.  The government set the criteria as follows:  “The test must meet performance standards of ≥97% specificity, ≥80% sensitivity at viral loads above 100,000 copies/ml”. Whilst this does not necessarily have to be a PCR* test (several lateral flow tests meet this criteria), many airlines insist on it being a PCR. You should therefore always check with your travel provider.

*A polymerase chain reaction test is performed to detect genetic material from a specific organism, such as a virus

Step 3:  Book your Arrivals test(s)

You must pre-book and pay for your arrival tests before your departure.  This must be with a government-listed provider such as Avante Health. We provide these tests via post, or you can come to one of our clinics for us to do your test for you.  The full list of providers is here.

–  Green-list arrivals:  you must book a Day 2 test.

–  Amber list arrivals:  you must book a Day 2 AND Day 8 test.  Optional for Amber list arrivals is a ‘Test To Release’ test, a negative result from which will release you from your self-isolation.

–   Red list arrivals: you must pre-book a mandatory quarantine hotel and test package.

Once you have booked your tests, the provider will issue you with an invoice (for proof of payment) and a 12-digit alphanumeric code (for your Passenger Locator Form).

Step 4:  Your Pre-departure Administration

–  Fill out your passenger locator from once you are within 48 hours of your arrival into the UK.

–  For the duration of your trip, make sure you keep all your test results and booking invoices readily available. UK immigration and your travel provider will need to see these.

I am vaccinated. Does this make a difference?

Unfortunately, at the moment, no.   Vaccines prevent you from serious illness, but do not fully eliminate the risk of you contracting the virus.  Avante Health has seen that their PCR testing does on occasion detect the virus in vaccinated individuals.

This leaves some uncertainty:  if a vaccinated individual can contract the virus, even if is likely you will remain symptom free or experience very mild illness, would they pose a risk to unvaccinated people around them?

Until this is fully answered, it is unlikely we will see testing requirements removed, but it seems very likely that at some stage your vaccination status will become important when choosing to travel. It is definitely a case of ‘watch this space’.

If you need any help with your travel plans, Avante Health will be delighted to help.  Just email us on support@avantehealth.co.uk, or call us on (+44) 3330069610. We are open 7 days a week.

Policy Direct can provide leisure travel insurance, including to some amber list countries depending on the circumstances. For more information, or to obtain a quote please visit www.policydirect.co.uk.