During a recent visit to the UK, my family encountered a glaring problem with the current structure of UK entry testing requirements.
UK Entry Requirements
Regardless of vaccination status, all entrants to the United Kingdom (UK) must supply a negative PCR test result 48 hours prior to the beginning of their trip. All travelers must then supply, at minimum, a second negative test result two days following their arrival (the day you land = Day 0, two days following the day you land = Day 2.)
Travelers with approved vaccines that qualify as fully vaccinated may be done testing at Day 2 as are children under 12. Unvaccinated travelers must submit another test on Day 8, or they can “test to release” on Day 5 to stop self-isolating but must still complete a Day 8 test. All travelers must complete a passenger locator form and commit to following quarantine rules for the prescribed isolation period (specific to their situation) in the event that they test positive on a (coronavirus) COVID-19 test.
Different nations within the UK (England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales) may have separate travel rules as may the cities within them. For my purposes, we entered the UK in London, England, and remained in England throughout the 14 days of our December 2021 visit. I came in from the United States which is not a “red list” country.
No, it’s not the cost of testing (advertised at £15 but truly, the cheapest outside of certain areas of London ranges from £55-159/person.) The issue is despite obsessively testing, a false positive is almost accepted as gospel and the subsequent negatives ignored. We had this experience on our trip. Rigorous testing of all of us led to as many as 7 tests in a 14-day period for one of the three of us; less but nearly as much for the rest of us.
The problem isn’t the false positive. That happens (though false negatives are statistically much less likely.) We can be certain it was a false positive by both testing and logic. If a group of three cohabitating travelers has 15+ negative tests in a 14-day period and one positive from just one member in the middle (with many tests after declaring negative for COVID) – it’s a false positive.
The issue is that there’s a lot of damage and not a lot of remediation for a false positive. There should be an easy process to demonstrate that and reduce the hassle for the visitor as well as the already strained public services and servants. There’s no such process at this point and that has a cascading effect on the traveler and the public system at large.
Only Affects Good Actors, The Ones Following The Rules
Unfortunately, despite holding several negative test results and essentially proving the false positive, the damage is done. The government is notified and a call is received (under the penalty of criminal activity) whereby the traveler must disclose whomever they have come in contact, and wherever they may have been during the period. One condition of UK entry, COVID follow-ups may be done in person as well. We would have welcomed that because we could have expedited ratification of the incorrect test result.
In our specific case, the member of our party self-isolated and took lateral flow tests right away the day the positive came back as well as the next day following protocol. These tests were available to us over the counter and did not require the affected traveler to leave self-isolation. This satisfied the requirements for the UK and any lingering concern on the part of our party but did nothing for all of the members of the public that had to be contacted and tested despite knowing and proving that they had not been exposed by one of us.
That adversely affects the people and places for which we’ve come into contact and frankly, the taxpayers of the United Kingdom who fund the NHS and pay for these tests.
It also puts undue harassment on the party with the false positive, skews numbers (both positive results, severity, hospitalizations, and mortality), and taxes the systems in place to deal with true positive cases.
What’s worse, the people who are most adversely affected are those good actors who follow the protocols. Some may have taken that follow-up test, determined they were not a risk, and not disclosed who they met or where they went, they might not have self-isolated either. Any system for which only the good actors are punished is a bad system.
We were fortunate to prove and know that we did not actually come into contact with omicron or COVID-19 more broadly while in the UK. However, the lack of an ombudsman or alternative false-positive process adds unneeded cost and hassle to people and systems already beleaguered by a pandemic that’s now stretched more than two years. This is a problem that should be corrected right away to allow resources to be placed on genuine cases and reduce the workload for others.
What do you think? How does the UK improve this process? Have you experienced a false positive in the UK?