08 October 2021

Scrapping PCR tests for travellers will erode safeguards, First Minister warns

08 October 2021

Wales’s First Minister has said he is “anxious” about the Government’s plans to scrap PCR testing for people travelling to the UK.

Mark Drakeford said the move will “erode safeguards” currently in place to detect new viruses and variants entering the country.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Thursday that the changes to testing rules for those travelling abroad could be in place by as early as October 22 – when England’s autumn half-term begins.

At a Welsh Government briefing on Friday, Mr Drakeford said: “I’m very concerned about what we are hearing from the UK Government about its plans to abandon PCR tests.

“We don’t have any detail from them, and we don’t know how the lateral flow devices will be deployed in their place.”

His concerns centre around whether lateral flow tests could be used to detect new variants, and he questioned the reliability of such tests if private companies are allowed to market them as they were with PCR tests.

“It turned out very quickly that quite a large number of suppliers in that market weren’t providing a product that was reliable,” Mr Drakeford said.

“The UK Government had to remove over 90 suppliers from its approved list. Are they now to create a new market in lateral flow devices? And how confident can we be that they will be genuine and reliable?”

Asked if Wales would follow England in scrapping the testing regime, he said: “It is very difficult for us not to follow what the UK Government does in the area of international travel because the vast bulk of people who make journeys overseas, who live in Wales, do so from ports and airports outside Wales.

“Our energies have been focused on trying to persuade the UK Government not to erode the safeguards that we think are properly in place to check that we’re not all going to be put at risk in a way that need not happen.”

Despite this, Mr Drakeford was positive about the months ahead, telling journalists: “Christmas this year will be easier than last year.”

He added: “If nothing unexpected arises – and we’ve got to plan for the unexpected as well – then we can look forward to a Christmas much more like the ones that we are used to.”

However, he warned there will be challenges over the autumn and winter period, saying: “Although the modelling forecasts look positive, coronavirus hasn’t gone away and the pandemic isn’t over.

“The NHS and social care continues to be under immense strain from non-pandemic and emergency pressures.

“I would ask everyone to support the NHS by thinking carefully about the care they need – A&E shouldn’t be the first and only choice for every health problem.”

Infection levels in Wales were on the increase, with the highest numbers seen among young people, resulting in the highest levels of new cases of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, the First Minister said.

However, numbers have now fallen back below 500 cases per 100,000 people, with the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 also dropping.

The Covid Pass will become a legal requirement from Monday, with people in the country having to show they have been double-vaccinated when trying to enter venues such as nightclubs.

New rules for entering care homes are also coming into force, with visitors no longer having to socially distance in a resident’s room or in a designated visiting room. Restrictions around gifts, including food and drink, will also be eased.

Wales’s winter plan includes a worst-case scenario called Covid Urgent, which would see a return to the alert level system and restrictions in order to prevent the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.

Mr Drakeford has said the country will most likely stay on the Covid Stable plan, which means remaining on alert level 0 and all businesses being open.

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