Travel testing RIP-OFF: 'Cowboy' firms offer 30p PCR tests

Travel testing RIP-OFF: ‘Cowboy’ firms offer 30p PCR tests then charge 200 times more as hundreds are stranded in red list countries after quarantine hotels run out of space – with NO rooms for family of four until 2022

  • ‘Cowboy’ testing firms would list fake low cost on Gov.UK to appear top of search results when sorted by price
  • But consumers would then find this test was unavailable and next cheapest was significantly more expensive
  • Families stuck in red list nations could have to wait until 2022 due to lack of availability at quarantine hotels 
  • Ministers also face huge backlash over the reintroduction of pre-departure Covid travel tests from tomorrow
  • The Covid-19 travel testing rip-off has returned after firms on the Government’s approved list of providers listed cheap PCR tests for pennies – before customers clicked through and found the real price was 200 times higher.

    The ‘cowboys’ would list a fake low cost to appear top of search results when sorted by price, but when clicking on the link consumers would find this test was unavailable and the next cheapest one was closer to an average price.

    In one case as company was advertising a test for just 30p on the Government website in an apparent attempt to lure in travellers, but this was in fact unavailable on the provider’s website with the next cheapest at £59.

    The Department of Health and Social Care has now removed several providers from the website, run by the UK Health Security Agency, after facing criticism for not doing enough to ensure the prices listed remain accurate. 

    Francis Ingham, director of the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation, the trade body for Covid testing firms, said: ‘Cutting out the cowboys increases public confidence in testing and help us all get through Covid.’  

    It comes as families stuck in red list nations trying to get home could have to wait until 2022 – with no availability at London Heathrow quarantine hotels for a group of two adults and two children for the rest of this month.

    A family with two adults and one child face waiting at least for a week until next Monday – while single adults or couples will have to wait until this Wednesday, according to availability on the official bookings portal CTM.

    Quarantine hotels cost £2,285 for ten days or 11 nights for one adult in one room, then £1,430 for an additional adult or child over 11, and £325 for a child aged 5 to 11. You do not have to pay for children under five.

    The Government is now trying to massively expand its quarantine hotel offering as families face spending hundreds of pounds more on hotels abroad in one of 11 red-listed countries while they wait for UK hotel space.

    Arrivals at Heathrow are said to be being transported by bus to Milton Keynes and Luton, with concerns that the problem could become worse if the red list is expanded in the coming days after Nigeria was added this morning.

    A source told the Daily Telegraph: ‘The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is desperately trying to find more hotel space. It is going to have to be massively expanded. That’s what they are very, very focused on in the coming days, especially with Nigeria having been added and the likelihood of others to follow.’ 

    The DHSC told MailOnline it had doubled the number of quarantine hotel rooms available from today and was ‘rapidly expanding’ capacity, while urging passengers not to travel from a red list country without a booking. 

    Meanwhile ministers are facing a huge backlash over the reintroduction of pre-departure Covid travel tests amid warnings that more than a million people could be stranded abroad just three weeks before Christmas.

    Responding to testing firms charging very low prices to lure in customers, a DHSC spokesman told MailOnline: ‘We’ve been clear that it is unacceptable for any private testing company to take advantage of holidaymakers. 

    Passengers arrive at London Heathrow Airport last Tuesday as more travel restrictions are brought in by the Government

    Passengers arrive at London Heathrow Airport last Tuesday as more travel restrictions are brought in by the Government

    The Government website of approved travel testing firms, which is run by the UK Health Security Agency which is part of the Department of Health and Social Care, has faced criticism for not being properly monitored to ensure prices remain accurate

    The Government website of approved travel testing firms, which is run by the UK Health Security Agency which is part of the Department of Health and Social Care, has faced criticism for not being properly monitored to ensure prices remain accurate

    A family with two adults and one child hoping for a quarantine hotel space face waiting at least for a week until next Monday

    A family with two adults and one child hoping for a quarantine hotel space face waiting at least for a week until next Monday

    ‘The government has taken action to drive down the cost of tests for international travel, with the average price of a Day 2 test now under £45 with many available for £20. We will continue to work with UKHSA to monitor issues raised by the public and take rapid action if appropriate, including striking companies from the list.’

    Companies can be taken off the Government-approved list if they are found to be non-compliant with the minimum standards, to not be meeting their accreditation deadlines where applicable or have been raised as a possible public safeguarding risk to the DHSC. 

    Q&A: What are the new travel rules for Britons?

    What are the new travel rules?

    From 4am tomorrow, everyone over 12 travelling to the UK will need to have taken a pre-departure test – either lateral flow or PCR – to prove they don’t have Covid-19. This test is mandatory, including for those who are vaccinated.

    What if I test positive overseas?

    Britons are advised to contact the British embassy or consulate for advice. You will have to abide by the quarantine rules that apply in that country. This will involve a period of quarantine in a government-approved hotel or facility at your expense, which could run to several hundred pounds. You will need to fund any medical treatment required. You can return home after testing negative, but will probably need to pay for a new flight.

    What happens after I arrive home?

    Returning travellers must self-isolate at home until they take a day two test. This must be a PCR test, which is booked before you travel and bought privately from a government-approved provider. You must self-isolate until you get a negative result.

    What about travel insurance?

    Some policies, such as those offered by the Post Office, include coronavirus cover. This will include trip cancellation and curtailment cover; overseas medical and repatriation costs.

    What if I want to cancel a foreign trip?

    You don’t have a legal right to a refund. But most tour operators and airlines will give you a voucher to re-book at a later date.

    What countries are on the red list now?

    Ten southern African countries were added to the UK’s travel red list because of Omicron – South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Angola, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia. Nigeria was added from 4am today.

    What are the travel rules for red list countries?

    You should not travel to red list countries for holidays. People returning to the UK from a red list country must take a pre-departure test and undergo a hotel quarantine for ten days, with a test at day two or eight. Quarantine currently costs £2,285 for a single adult and £1,430 for a second adult.

    What happens next?

    These are temporary measures introduced to prevent further Omicron cases from entering the UK. They will be examined at the three-week review point on December 20.


    It operates a two-strike process where providers failing to provide an adequate service are removed from the Government list. Private providers may be reinstated to the list once they have undertaken corrective action and provided the DHSC with evidence to show this. 

    And on the hotel room capacity issues, the DHSC told MailOnline: ‘We are rapidly expanding our hotel capacity following our immediate and precautionary action against the omicron variant. We have doubled the number of hotel rooms available from Monday and will continue to increase availability on a daily basis.’

    Meanwhile the travel sector has rounded on the Government after it performed a dramatic U-turn to require travellers to be tested before they return to Britain in a move that threatens to wreck the festive plans of millions of families.

    Tory MPs said the rule change will be a hammer blow to the airline industry, and a leading scientific adviser to the Government said the clampdown would make no ‘material difference’ to the spread of the Omicron variant.

    The move, which comes into force tomorrow, means travellers will have to provide a negative test result before they can board a flight home. Those who test positive will have to quarantine abroad at their own expense.

    A Cabinet source said some officials and scientists had wanted to go even further by insisting that travellers quarantine at home for up to eight days on their return.

    ‘If it had been up to the health ‘Blob’, this would have been even more disruptive,’ the source said.

    Industry sources predicted more than a million Britons abroad will be scrambling to get a test in order to avoid being stranded.

    Travel expert Paul Charles said: ‘People who are overseas are finding it difficult to obtain tests. It’s a weekend, lots of places are closed and these people had no reason to think about the need to get a test to come home. People will effectively be stranded because they can’t get the tests that are now required.’

    He added: ‘Tens of thousands of travel industry jobs are threatened. It is beyond belief that no support measures have been announced. That just indicates how knee-jerk these policies are.’

    The Government U-turn came after a week in which ministers repeatedly insisted pre-departure tests would not be needed. In a podcast interview recorded on Wednesday and posted on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said ministers did not want to ‘kill off the travel sector again’.

    On Thursday, science minister George Freeman said further travel tests would put the economy ‘on its knees’.

    But a source said chief medical officer Chris Whitty had made a powerful case to ministers on Saturday, citing a flight from South Africa to the Netherlands on which 11 passengers had Omicron.

    Justice Secretary Dominic Raab insisted that the pre-departure tests were ‘not prohibitive’, but acknowledged it would make only a ‘marginal difference’ to the spread of the new variant.

    Professor Mark Woolhouse, who advises the Government’s Sage committee, said it was too late for the measure to slow the spread of the virus. ‘I think that may be a case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted,’ he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

    ‘If Omicron is here in the UK, and it certainly is, if there’s community transmission in the UK, and it certainly looks that way, then it’s that community transmission that will drive a next wave. It’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave, if we’re going to have one.’

    The UK Health Security Agency said a further 86 cases of Omicron had been confirmed in the UK on Sunday, bringing the total to 246.

    What are the 11 countries on Britain’s red list?









    South Africa




    Tory MP Henry Smith, chairman of the Future of Aviation group of MPs, said the new testing regime was ‘a massive blow that will hit our economy, jobs and place these vital industries into peril just as they were looking to recover’.

    He added: ‘That these restrictions have come with no financial or employment support is totally unacceptable and the Government must announce a full package of measures in the coming days and control the costs of testing.

    ‘Above all they need to justify why these restrictions are needed and what the roadmap is for their removal as soon as possible.’

    Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the industry body Airlines UK, said the rapidly changing measures meant planning was becoming impossible.

    ‘It is premature to hit millions of passengers and industry before we see the full data. We don’t have the clinical evidence,’ he said.

    The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said pre-departure tests were a ‘major deterrent to travel’.

    Chairman of the Association of British Travel Agents, Alistair Rowland, said a fragile recovery in the industry has been shattered.

    ‘Since last weekend, demand has dropped by more than 50 per cent in terms of booking holidays for future seasons. There is no consumer confidence,’ he said.

    Which? Travel editor, Rory Boland, said: ‘Constantly changing rules at the last minute leaves passengers footing the bill. In some destinations, it will be difficult for people to secure tests at such short notice.

    ‘For those who do test positive abroad, they should first and foremost follow local health guidelines. This will likely require quarantining in your existing hotel or at government accommodation.

    ‘In some countries, travellers will have to pay for quarantine, and some travel insurance providers can help with this. Travellers should also check the flexible booking policy of their airline to rearrange flights.’

    Nigeria was added to the travel red list after 21 cases of the Omicron variant in England were linked to travel from the west African nation. 

    From 4am today, only British and Irish nationals and residents travelling from Nigeria will be allowed into the UK, and they will be required to isolate in a government-managed quarantine hotel.

    UK couple facing £4k hotel quarantine on return from South Africa launch legal action against the Government because policy was introduced AFTER they left Britain 

    A legal challenge that argues coronavirus hotel quarantine is a ‘fundamental breach of human rights’ has been mounted this week.

    People entering the UK from 10 countries in southern Africa must currently spend 10 full days in a quarantine hotel, at a cost of £2,285 for solo travellers.

    On Monday, Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, were due to enter hotel quarantine on their return from a break in South Africa

    They say they were left stranded when the country was added to the UK’s red list due to concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant.

    Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were 'frustrated' when flights were banned and Heathrow's quarantine hotel was fully booked

    Owen Hancock, 35, and Emily Mennie, 30, from Tooting, London, were ‘frustrated’ when flights were banned and Heathrow’s quarantine hotel was fully booked

    Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie, who was born in South Africa, were visiting her family for the first time since Covid struck nearly two years ago

     Mr Hancock and Mrs Mennie, who was born in South Africa, were visiting her family for the first time since Covid struck nearly two years ago

    The couple, from Tooting, London, were visiting Ms Mennie’s family for the first time since the start of the pandemic when their travel plans were thrown into chaos.

    When they finally managed to book their journey home, they were told hotel quarantine was full and they would have to reschedule their flights and PCR tests.

    They say this added to their financial woes and are now facing a £4,000 credit card bill on their return.

    Alex and Kate Freed described the hotel conditions as 'awful'

    Alex and Kate Freed described the hotel conditions as ‘awful’

    The couple have set up an online petition, which has attracted more than 40,000 signatures, calling on the Government to fund hotel quarantine costs for travellers caught in the same situation when new measures are imposed at short notice.

    Ms Mennie said: ‘This ridiculous and unjustifiable policy was re-introduced with no prior warning, no ability for us to get home, and then to add insult to injury we were unable to get a room.

    ‘The Government’s handling of this has been shambolic and that’s evident from the number of people who have signed our petition and call on the Prime Minister to rethink.’

    Mr Hancock said: ‘It is utterly unfair and unreasonable that we should have to pay for mandatory hotel quarantine, which was not the Government policy when we left the UK.’

    The couple say they have complied with all guidance and every restriction since the pandemic began.

    They are backing a case brought by law firm PGMBM who on Thursday will seek permission at the High Court for a judicial review of the Government’s mandatory hotel quarantine policy.

    The firm will present evidence before a judge at a two-hour hearing to decided whether a review will be granted.

    Tom Goodhead, managing partner at PGMBM, said: ‘We wholeheartedly appreciate the seriousness of the Omicron variant, as well as the efforts of governments and healthcare workers to tackle it.

    ‘This does not, however, mean that policies which constitute extraordinary violations of traditional liberties and human rights can escape the careful judicial examination they deserve.

    ‘Hotel quarantine is a fundamental breach of people’s human rights. Law-abiding citizens who have been double vaccinated and tested negative should be free from hotel quarantine. The idea that they need to pay for the privilege of their own imprisonment is outrageous.

    ‘It is for this reason that we are taking the UK government to court. If we are successful, people like Owen and Emily could eventually be entitled to compensation.’

    The couple slammed the food provisions (pictured) and said the hotel quarantine experience overall was 'awful'

    The couple slammed the food provisions (pictured) and said the hotel quarantine experience overall was ‘awful’

    A Government spokesperson said: ‘We are determined to protect our country and the progress we have made thanks to the vaccine rollout.

    ‘We make no apology for taking decisive action at the border and introducing hotel quarantine. Every essential check has strengthened our defences against the risk of new coronavirus variants such as Omicron.’

    Meanwhile a couple who have been forced to use the quarantine scheme after spending their honeymoon in South Africa have described their experience as ‘awful’.

    Kate and Alex Freed, 29 and 30 years old respectively, from London, rescheduled their wedding four times as a result of coronavirus restrictions.

    'Half the time it's cold, half the time it's just inedible,' Alex said of the meals the pair were given

    ‘Half the time it’s cold, half the time it’s just inedible,’ Alex said of the meals the pair were given

    After getting married in September, they booked their honeymoon to South Africa.

    They spoke exclusively to the PA news agency on the third day of their 10-day quarantine period.

    ‘We’d been planning the South Africa trip for ages… we didn’t book it until the green list changed and the foreign travel advice was that it was safe to go to’, Kate explained.

    ‘To be charged for coming back to your country when the Government’s told you it’s safe to go, I think is just wrong’, Alex added.

    The couple flew back from South Africa on December 2, after having their original flight home cancelled due to the travel ban.

    They said it took almost six hours to get from the plane at Heathrow to their hotel, the Holiday Inn Express at Heathrow Terminal 4, including waiting in a bus from the terminal to the hotel.

    ‘They put us onto a bus for the 30-second journey, but we were on the bus for three hours’, Alex explained.

    ‘We were on a bus full of people, (with) no ventilation.

    ‘It was the most unorganised mess ever. People were crying. It just seemed like something from a film, it was a bit mad,’ he added.

    After arriving at the hotel itself, the pair said they had food and other supplies delivered by their family, because the hotel food is ‘inedible’.

    ‘You’re paying serious money and… it’s not substantial meals. Half the time it’s cold, half the time it’s just inedible’, Alex said.

    Day to day, guests can request to go outside for a walk. A security guard accompanies them downstairs, and they are allowed 20 minutes in the hotel car park before being told they have to go back inside, the pair said.

    Travellers returning from red list countries originally faced a cost of £1,750 to quarantine in a hotel when the scheme was first announced in February.

    The price has now risen to £2,285 for the 11-night stay.

    ‘I’d rather pay for security outside my flat and they can watch me not leave’, Kate said.

    ‘I don’t disagree with quarantine if that’s what the Government want to do… It’s just the cost that’s come with it,’ she added.

    ‘The way it is run is awful. I just feel something needs to be done about it,’ Alex said.

    PA has contacted Holiday Inn Express for comment.





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