All non-essential travel from the UK abroad is currently banned, but all the indications are pointing towards this ban being lifted from the 17th May. When it is lifted, however, UK travellers are likely to face demands for evidence of negative test results for COVID-19.
What is the background to COVID-19 tests?
Many countries are already demanding negative COVID-19 test results from travellers entering their country from abroad.
Each country has its own set of rules. Take Israel, for example, they are currently only allowing people in if they have been vaccinated, and they also require a negative PCR test result before travellers board a plane to either Eilat or Tel Aviv. They also require a blood test on arrival at the moment but may drop this if there is an international agreement on COVID vaccine certificates in the future.
When international travel to and from the UK opens up again, there will be a need for COVID tests both pre-departure and post-arrival.
What COVID tests are available?
There are two main types of COVID test – those that look for the presence of the virus in the body at the moment the test is taken – and those that look for evidence of a previous infection by the response of your immune system to it.
The first type of test, those that look for current infection, are known as diagnostic tests. These can be antigen tests that detect specific proteins from the virus or PCR tests that look for the genetic material of the virus.
The World Health Organisation has said that negative antigen diagnostic test results “should not remove a contact from quarantine requirements” which points to the fact that PCR tests are the preferred test for most.
The second type of test, also known as the antibody test, looks for antibodies that have been created by your immune system in response to a virus (such as the coronavirus). These antibodies can take several days or weeks to develop after an infection, and stay in your blood for some time after recovery. It is believed that the presence of antibodies in your blood can provide some level of immunity to COVID-19 in the future.
How are COVID tests rated?
No COVID test is 100% accurate, and all tests can vary in their sensitivity and specificity.
Sensitivity relates to the proportion of carriers of the virus who are correctly identified by the test, and specificity relates to the proportion of non-carriers of the virus who are correctly identified.
So, if a test had 100% sensitivity this would mean there were no ‘false negatives’ while 100% specificity means no ‘false positives.’
The gold-standard PCR Test we use here at Fit2FlyTest has 100% specificity towards the Sars-Cov-2 virus and has been analysed by Public Health England and Hampshire hospitals NHS trust.
Which is the best test?
The most popular test amongst countries that are stipulating tests for travellers at the moment is the PCR test (polymerase chain reaction). As outlined above, this is the standard NHS test and is the only one accepted for post-arrival testing in the UK.
A swab is used to take a sample from either the back of the throat or the top of the nostrils. The sample is then returned to our laboratory where we process it and try to detect genetic material in the virus (called RNA) as this is evidence of the COVID-19 virus being present.
Are swab tests uncomfortable?
They can be for some people who may find the procedure unpleasant. A throat swab, for example, may make you feel like gagging while a nasal swab can feel a little intrusive.
So, what do you need to travel out of the UK?
You will need a fit to fly certificate confirming you have tested negative for coronavirus – from a PCR test conducted within 72 hours of your arrival at your destination.
Fit2FlyTest offers a digital fit to fly certificate as part of our Fit to Fly PCR Test package, and you can also order a paper copy of your certificate for an additional cost of £10.