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Why are most 3 hour ‘rapid PCR’ tests NOT valid for UK arrivals testing?

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As of 4am yesterday, anyone arriving into the UK from any destination outside the Common Travel Area (Ireland, Channel Islands, Isle of Man) has to take a PCR test within two days of arrival.

More importantly, you must isolate at home or in a hotel until your PCR test result arrives. In one stroke, this has killed all short inbound business trips to the UK. It also makes it very inconvenient to do a business trip from the UK given the isolation requirement on your return.

PCR test on arrival in UK

When this was announced, I assumed that it would lead to a jump in the 3 hour ‘rapid PCR’ market. ExpressTest has been offering this at some locations, including Heathrow, for departing passengers for some time, and Collinson also offers it.

Unfortunately, this won’t work.

Collinson announced on Monday that its 3-hour rapid PCR tests do not meet the standards laid down by the Government for arriving passengers:

Many other testing firms will be in the same position due to the different processing and reporting requirements versus Fit to Fly tests, including the need to sequence international arrival samples should they be positive.

It seems that whilst it would – in theory – be possible to offer rapid PCR testing for international arrivals, the capacity isn’t there. To offer a reliable rapid PCR testing service at such short notice, overall testing capacity would have to be cut substantially which make it impossible to process PCR tests for standard customers.

ExpressTest currently offers, at its Heathrow in-person testing centres, a guarantee that you get your result by 10pm the following day.

We have been told that the testing providers are working on new procedures which will allow them to speed up the process. It appears that it won’t be possible to reduce the time frame below 10 hours, however, and that in most cases you will be waiting 24 hours for a result.

That said, more exclusive (and expensive) private clinics are likely to be able to offer rapid PCR testing for day 2 arrivals. The Regenerative Clinic – which I have used before for standard tests and can recommend – charges £399 for a 3-hour PCR test. This is because smaller private clinics operate at much lower volumes, not using their full laboratory capacity. Rapid testing is less disruptive to their overall operation than mass-testing providers like ExpressTest and Collinson.

Comments (144)

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  • NickG says:

    Randox charged me around £60 for a same day PCR test (on-site testing at hotel on Bath Road/Heathrow). The result came back in 2 hours!

    Sorry to be so sceptical and as a rule I am a big fan of HfP, but this whole article just seems like an excuse to promote the £399 test from Regenerative Clinic.

    • Rob says:

      No, it is there to make a point and the ONLY reason I slotted it in at the last minute is that a reader flagged it in the comments last night.

      Have you read the article? Did you have your 2-hour test yesterday? If not, it WASN’T the same test as you now need because the result was not sequenced, which is now a Government requirement before the test result can be issued.

      In order to sequence a test you effectively need to shut down your testing line for a period which massively reduces the number you can handle.

  • Paul says:

    I arrive into Edinburgh on Friday and I can’t find anywhere doing the PCR day 2 tests there. ExpressTest are the airport provider but are not setup for the day 2 arrival tests yet. I messaged them and they said they would offer as soon as they can!

    • Graeme says:

      Get the test delivered to the hotel or wherever else you will be staying. I have done this before – delivered to the Hilton Glasgow and it was ready for me to collect when I checked in.

  • Polly says:

    Was hoping that LHR might have a 3 hr one up and running by next week, then only after arrival few hours in isolation. Was going to head to Dublin that day as transit, but Ire want a neg test now also. So that squashes that on the head. If we did manage to get a 3 hr express one done on arrival, then possibly get an RFS to Ireland later on that day. That PCR would then qualify for Ireland, l think?

    Dubious told me this morning that Singapore are bringing in even more stringent arrival testing now. With different isolation criteria. It’s probably their only way to contain it, if any cases show up. Presume

    BA will probably reduce their VTL flights now too, as only 86 on our flight out, Nov 18th. Expecting a date or time change notice any day from them. Meantime, still enjoying glorious Singapore, food heaven, as they say. Nice local Asian one near the W, regular customers now..lovely people.

    • Bill says:

      Paragraph 1 would mean you’re classes as transit passenger so English arrival testing rules go out the window. The issue becomes what Dublin wants you to do

    • Mark says:

      They already have. Our flight for early Feb cancelled with flights reduced to four 787-9s per week.

    • Sam G says:

      extra S$15 rapid tests on day 3 + 7 @Polly. so not too onerous (yet)

  • Tim Rogers says:

    London datapoint: There are providers around ExCeL (I believe the Aloft) doing 3 hour tests. I know this because it’s World Aviation Festival this week there (an airline industry event!) and they’ve been touting these to attendees from abroad.

    • Polly says:

      Tnx, long trek for us tho fm lhr, but worth noting.

    • Rob says:

      Yes, you can get a (subsidised) £65 3-hour test today or tomorrow morning at the Novotel amongst other places.

  • Gareth says:

    We are getting back from the US on 24 Dec and the hope was we’d get an express test in order to be free Christmas Day. Looks like this won’t happen. Any idea if labs will work Christmas Day to process ‘standard’ tests? Presume not.

    • Andrew says:

      Depends what your Christmas plans are – if you’re staying at someone’s house then you’re still free to do this, as long as you don’t leave that house until you get your results.

      • Gareth says:

        We’ve got people that are coming to stay with us and my son goes back to his Mother’s. Have a feeling my son can go direct home but he’s have to isolate there. Can our visitors join us in isolation? Logic would suggest yes but they would have to continue isolation with us if we’re positive (?).

        • Andrew says:

          If they were in residence when you arrive then fine, but day guests (unless providing you with personal care etc) are not permitted.

        • Nick says:

          Logic doesn’t come into it…Isolation means isolation!

          • Scott says:

            Not for my neighbours. Popping in and out multiple times a day, various people coming around, one having driving lessons etc.
            No issues for them.

    • Simon says:

      Yes, ExpressTest labs will be operating on Christmas Day.

  • Michele says:

    This is ridiculous, especially as these firms sell a ‘3 hour arrival PCR test’. What is the point of this service if it’s not fit for purpose

    • Polly says:

      Well at least Collinson admitted their 3 hr PCRs don’t meet requirements. Do these ones at excel?

      Here’s hoping someone at LHR will agree a lab contract for sequencing in the next few days… hoping for a 3 hr one on Dec 8th at lhr…

    • Mememe says:

      Probably because they were OK previously. Doh

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Not sure what the target market was for this

        Vaccinated haven’t needed to isolate for a while so a quick PCR was a waste of £££ then later you just needed a cheaper LFT which takes c20 mins

        Unvaccinated needed a day 2 PCR but had to isolate for 10 days anyway so paying extra for a 3hr “day 2” test was a waste of time.

        • Rob says:

          The market was the OUTBOUND one, people who needed a PCR to get into their destination but couldn’t source one easily where they live given the 48-72 hour cut-offs in place. You turn up early at Heathrow and do it before you check-in. I believe there are some people outside London who do not have three private testing centres within 10 minutes walk of their house.

          • Mr(s) Entitled says:

            All my local testing centres in Cheshire closed in the Spring and have been converted to Pret’s. 😉

          • TGLoyalty says:

            Yup makes sense as a Fit to Fly but not day 2 arrival.

        • Polly says:

          TG L
          The likes of us going to Singapore, who had to have a fit to fly cert within 48 hrs of departure. So it would be tight doing a regular one, and hope it’s back on time. Combined with the need to complete the VTL paperwork, and submit it 24 hrs before departure. The 3 hr one was a godsend, even if it was £118 pp…

    • Polly says:


      They met the requirements to produce a fit to fly departure certificate, but now sequencing is needed for the new PCR, it doesn’t meet the standard.

      With what occurred with my test in Singapore, l would like to see my actual test results, to see if there were any markers indicating l was just negative or well negative…still waiting for their reply.

  • TOBIAS L says:

    Why not just continue buying the £1 PCR test or whatever for the PLF code and be done with it? You can then do a PCR at home or an antigen test from the NHS and stop isolating once the negative result comes in?

    Appreciate it has only been one day, but is this not just like before that the worst that can happen is a phone call you can ignore?

    Also, for those righteous keyboard warriors about to jump in from their high horse, keep it to yourselves 🙂 No one cares except you, and you’re the only people restricting your already dim lives.

    • High Grade says:

      I really hope you get caught. I bet you’re the type of person that argues with security at the doors of a hospital when told to wear a mask.

      • Save East Coast Rewards says:

        Should people just obediently follow any silly old rules?

      • Dayle says:

        I bet you’re the type of person who wears one when you drive in your own car… on your own…

      • Pablo says:

        Only way you can get caught is if someone grassed you up. Keep a low profile, no bragging on social media, tell everyone you’re just having a quiet weekend in with Netflix and you’re good to jet around Europe. Cheapest test on arrival and back to work on Monday. Highly unlikely anyone will check on you beyond a phone call.

    • Dayle says:

      AFAIK, you’ll only get the PLF if you collect the test? Is there anywhere that you don’t need to collect? New business opportunity perhaps…

    • Numpty says:

      I recall when HfP was full of sensible posts. Oh well.

    • john says:

      They are doing visits too. Know of someone who has had one this week.

  • Julian Power says:

    I don’t get the airports. They complain that they have not made the billions in profits that they deserve (which their customers are now expected to make up), yet they have done nothing to help themselves. Why has Heathrow not set up their own PCR lab on site that will do 2-3 hour arrival tests? It is the only way they can be sure visitors won’t cancel flights. They should even be doing this at cost / a loss to keep their business running. Maybe the uncertainty means they won’t invest but a few million here or there is all they need and is tiny compared to the losses they are making.

    • John says:

      They don’t need to do that because the customers will just continue to make up their losses forever

    • Sam G says:

      I think the issue is currently that it could only be for three weeks. They likely can’t even do it much within 3 weeks so it could be a complete waste of time & money at a time when they’re already running at a huge loss. If the govt said now it’d be until March then for sure they’d be working with the providers to make it happen

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