Ditch ‘illogical’ Covid travel tests for under-11s, ministers urged

Ministers have been urged to ditch “illogical, unnecessary and damaging” Covid travel tests for under-11s, which no other countries impose on children.

England is the only country in Europe to require under-11s to be tested on their return and to exempt only those aged four or under. It can add nearly £150 to the cost of a holiday for a family of four.

However, public health experts and children’s groups say it is an unnecessary burden on healthy children when Covid infection rates among returning travellers are lower than those in the UK.

‘If you have high vaccination rates, why are you doing this?’

Allyson Pollock, professor of public health at Newcastle University, told The Telegraph: “Testing young children is illogical and unnecessary. If your background rates are low in the population, then there is no logic to testing in any case. 

“If you have high vaccination rates, why are you doing this? It comes down to what is the evidence in support of testing.

“We know the tests themselves are problematic and the Government is moving to lateral flow tests [LFTs] where the sensitivity and performance depends on who is doing them. There has been no evaluation of self-testing using LFTs. Moreover, if you are not trained to do the tests, test performance is poor. 

“All this highlights some of the nonsense around testing travellers which has never been evaluated and shown to be a good tool for stopping transmission or infection in travellers.”

Even the Scottish government, which has been more cautious than England over Covid restrictions, has exempted all under-11s on the basis that the potential damage to a child’s wellbeing outweighs the benefits from testing.

“Clinicians considered the risk of transmission compared to the well-being of children and are confident that testing under the age of 11 is not required,” said a Scottish government spokesman.

The row comes on the eve of the October half term, with the Government due to replace PCR tests with LFTs for travellers entering the UK from the end of October. But under-11s in England will still be required to take them on or before day two of their arrival.

PCR and lateral flow tests compared

This is despite NHS data which shows just 0.3 per cent of the travellers arriving from even the highest risk red list countries tested positive for Covid, compared with 1.1 per cent for people in the UK.

Molly Kingsley, founder of UsforThem, a group calling for the needs of children to be prioritised in the Covid pandemic, said: “Testing can be prohibitively expensive and deeply unpleasant for children.

“We should not be asking healthy children to do this. It is particularly unfair when our closest neighbours are not doing it. A lot of parents will have an issue with this medicalisation of children after the last year of disruption that they have endured.”

Paul Charles, the chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “Families are nervous that ongoing restrictions will lead to higher costs and enormous inconvenience for no good reason. They will be put off from multi-generational or family holidays unless these measures are relaxed.”

Dr Sophia Makki, Incident Director on Covid-19 for the UK Health Security Agency, said: “Our top priority is protecting the health of the public. Testing is a vital tool to help slow the spread of the virus and detect any new variants that might be entering the country.

 “The latest rules around testing on return from abroad are set out on gov.uk and are kept under review.”

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