A belated U-turn by the Welsh Government over the use of private PCR tests for international travel has been welcomed as “the right decision”.
Welsh residents can only use more expensive NHS tests at present upon returning from abroad - except in exceptional circumstances.
First Minister Mark Drakeford had previously said he had no plans to change the policy. But that will change from 21 September because of new UK rules policing private PCR travel tests and a spot checks regime.
Foreign travellers from Wales must currently use specific NHS PCR tests booked through the Corporate Travel Management (CTM) web portal on day two of their return – and day eight if unvaccinated - at a cost of £68 each. In England, private testing is available at less than £50.
This was widely criticised by holidaymakers in Wales as “unfair” because it meant they had to pay more. There was a fine of £1,000 for using a private test provider instead.
The Welsh system also applied to travellers arriving at an airport or port in another part of the UK before returning to Wales.
Monmouth MP David Davies had asked the monopolies watchdog to investigate the decision not to allow people returning to Wales to shop around for the cheapest deal on Covid PCR tests to save money, as is the case in England.
Welsh ministers argued the use of NHS tests ensured any positive cases were identified as early as possible because they are processed through the UK Lighthouse laboratories network and results are fed directly into NHS Wales’ systems – helping to identify harmful variants and making it easier to trace holidaymakers who might be infected.
However, Mr Davies said it struck him as being “nothing more than a monopoly” and UK citizens living in Wales were being “ripped-off”.
He said he had received numerous complaints from aggrieved constituents about the level of service from CTM, including problems with incomplete test kits and delays with results.
As a result of concerns, the Competition and Markets Authority has made a series of recommendations to UK ministers to improve the travel testing market, including enhanced requirements for providers to appear on the GOV.UK website list, comprehensive monitoring and enforcement, and sanctions for those which fail to comply.
It follows complaints of “cowboy behaviour”, “excessive” pricing and “exploitative practices” by some testing companies, prompting the UK Government to announce it would tighten rules on private providers.
The Welsh Government said these new measures would ensure test results - including identifying new variants of Covid - would be processed and reported "quickly and within a comparable time period to NHS tests", and it will now allow private tests to be used for people returning to Wales.
“While I welcome this belated U-turn, I feel sorry for all those who unnecessarily paid extra,” said Mr Davies.
“But at least the right decision has been made. The Welsh Government should not be using high PCR test costs as a means to make it difficult for international travel.
“People have a right to go abroad, to see family and to have a holiday. Welsh residents should not be put at a disadvantage to people in the rest of the UK.”
Mr Davies also thanked constituents Richard Cobourne and Mary Baldwin who initially raised the cost of travellers’ PCR tests.