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A person receives a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre at the Heaven nightclub in London, Britain, August 8 2021. Picture: Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS
A person receives a dose of the Pfizer vaccine at an NHS vaccination centre at the Heaven nightclub in London, Britain, August 8 2021. Picture: Picture: REUTERS/HENRY NICHOLLS

The UK government has lowered the cost of Covid-19 tests provided by the National Health Service (NHS) for international travel after criticism from the competition watchdog and the tourism industry.

The cost of tests will be reduced to £68 from £88 for one test and to £136 from £170 for two, the UK’s department for health and social care said.

The announcement follows months of complaints from consumers, travel companies and even the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that tests are needlessly pricey.

Travellers are required to take at least three tests per round trip abroad, adding costs to holiday travel, especially for families. The tests in Britain can cost anywhere from £23.99 to £575 on the government website.

The government has faced a series of complaints over the proliferation of private firms offering polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for travel, with critics warning that regulation is too lax and that the market is a “complete Wild West”.

“Too many providers are acting like cowboys and that needs to stop,” health secretary Sajid Javid said. “The public should be allowed to enjoy their summer holidays without having to face excessive costs or anxiety.”

The travel industry has complained for months that the cost of tests is too high, worsening the struggles faced by the sector in the pandemic. Some European countries have capped the cost of tests.

The lower prices announced so far only apply to tests offered by the NHS. Most travellers book tests from private laboratories, many of which are already charging much less than the lower limit being set by the NHS. British Airways, for instance, offers a discount code to customers with many test providers charging less than £50.

The CMA is investigating the price of Covid-19 tests for travellers, and Javid said he will review the initial advice from the watchdog in the coming days.

Javid said he has also ordered his department to “urgently review” the list of private providers on the government website to “ensure pricing is clearer and transparent”. Any provider found to be misleading the public will be removed urgently, and the review concludes in 10 days.

Bloomberg News. For more articles like this please visit Bloomberg.com

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