Guest column
Testing times for keeping Covid at bay

By Professor Denis Kinane, immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics

Professor Denis Kinane, immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics

Professor Denis Kinane, immunologist and founding scientist at Cignpost Diagnostics

As the Covid-19 pandemic begins to subside, international travel restrictions have eased and countries have taken new approaches to testing for Covid-19 - often moving from PCR to lateral flow tests, or removing the testing requirement for fully vaccinated travellers completely.

While such moves serve as a shot in the arm for the travel industry, making it easier and cheaper for travellers to meet entry requirements, there remain public health concerns about moving away from the gold standard PCR tests. Primarily this is because it is this test that has proven itself to be the most effective way to detect potentially dangerous new variants.

Public health fears about the changes in travel rules are exacerbated by the worryingly high levels of infection in Europe currently.

We recognise that governments have a difficult task in trying to balance the need to protect from new variants with a desire to re-open the economy. While our preference would be to retain PCR tests for longer, we believe that the role of private Covid testing companies is to ensure that processes are as robust as possible.

In that respect, the decisions the UK government has taken, for example, are encouraging. Since October 2021, all passengers have needed to book a lateral flow test to take within two days of arrival in the UK, so guaranteeing that they will be tested.

The system in place should also ensure that they can only take a single test, because they require all passengers to submit a photo of their test result that can then be verified by the testing company. This means anyone testing positive can be identified and then take a PCR test, the results of which can be sequenced for variants.

Finally, the government has - rightly - insisted that only testing providers that can demonstrate their medical and scientific credentials are able to offer these lateral flow tests. These include having a registered medical practitioner to oversee the test processes.

In addition, providers must have a clinical scientist that has oversight of all clinical practices. These requirements, taken together, are sensible precautions that should ensure we have the maximum chance of picking up positive tests and having the results sequenced. It will also keep out the rogue testing companies that have overcharged consumers or even failed to conduct the tests properly.

It is critical over the next months that we continue to be vigilant in taking sensible precautions that minimise the danger from Covid. The small number of restrictions that remain in place for international travel are designed to achieve that goal.