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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)

  • mutley says:

    I am coming back from the USA in Mid February to Terminal 3 arriving at 06.00 and then booked on the BA to Zagreb ( fortunately from Terminal 3) leaving at 12.40.

    Do I need to rapid PCR at LHR?

    • Rhys says:

      No, sounds like you are connecting elsewhere and will be staying at the airport.

  • mutley says:

    Ok thank you.

  • david says:

    I cant be the only one who thinks putting DISNEY2U2ME under 2 day PCR code in plf will be waved a pass.

    • chaz says:

      Just enter RANDX along with 7 random numbers on your plf. has worked all year.

  • Clive says:

    Is the Express Test day 2 PCR OK for arrivals these days?

  • Richard says:

    We are arriving back from North Cyprus on Friday and the NHS does not recognise our vaccine status. Can someone recommend a provider for day 2/8 and day 5 release tests that
    a) isn’t extortionate
    b) actually send the results

    Thank you

  • James Harper says:

    If it is the sequencing on a positive test that takes time, I really can’t see a reason why if the result is negative, it can’t be delivered in three hours – so you equally know that if you don’t have your result in three hours, it’s positive.

    In any event, the UK junta is out of line, they can’t on the one hand be pushing vaccines as the solution and then demand testing, anyone would think they needed the money to line their pockets….

  • Paul says:

    HALO Verify at the Sofitel T5, day 2 PCR, results within 5 hours if taken before 6pm. £60
    No swab either as its a spit test.

    • BlueHorizonUK says:

      Assume this is for departure and not for returning to the UK

    • Jen T says:

      Thank you very much for this – the perfect solution for us. All booked. Rob – could this be added to the article?

    • Robbie says:

      Perfect, thank you for this! Everything else we found was either £120+ (Marylebone, The Regenerative Clinic) or only did same-day results if tested before 3pm.

    • Tom H says:

      Where does it say result back same day if sample taken before 6?

    • Polly says:

      Can we get to the Sofitel directly from T5? With bags etc…

      • Tom H says:

        Yes it’s literally out the terminal across SS and its there, 7mins tops

  • Steve says:

    Its in the FAQ:
    8am-6pm results in 5 hrs; tests taken between 6pm-9pm results by 6am the following day.

    Which is odd given they are open 7am-7pm!

    • Tom H says:

      Cheers just spotted it. Has anyone used these guys and can say that it worked?

      • GeorgeJ says:

        I used the Halo courier service for day 2 and 8 tests earlier in the year. They are fine, did what they said they would do. I think they are the commercial arm of Imperial.

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