What types of COVID-19 tests are available for travellers? - MIDAS Travel
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What COVID-19 Test Do I Need To Travel?

With the COVID landscape changing on a daily basis, it could be easy to get confused about the different types of COVID-19 tests. In particular, what kind of test you need, when to take it and for what purpose. The good news is, there’s a variety of COVID-19 tests available and many more are in production.

Understanding COVID testing can be key to getting business travel programmes back on track. Not only that, but it can also help with providing travellers with extra peace of mind.

Here we take a look at the types of tests currently available, should you need a pre-flight test. At present, there are two main groups:

  1. Viral tests: checks if a person currently has COVID-19
  2. Antibody tests: checks if a person has had COVID-19 previously, and could have built up antibodies

Type #1 of COVID-19 test: Viral Tests

Viral tests are for someone who currently has COVID-19 symptoms.

They are made up of PCR (Polymerise Chain Reaction) testing and antigen testing. A virus test mostly involves a swab sample being taken – described as ‘a small piece of soft, absorbent material on a plastic stick that is used to take a sample from the nose and throat of a patient’ (as cited on the Government Website)

Types of PCR Testing

Swab testing

  • the most common testing in the UK
  • deemed fairly reliable
  • with results taking about 2 days

LAMP testing

  • similar to a swab test
  • conducted at a constant temperature to work quicker
  • with results can be available in a couple of hours, or as quick as 20 minutes

90-minute PCR test

  • via swab test
  • machines deliver on-the-spot testing
  • with results in 90 minutes

No-swab saliva test

  • a home testing kit
  • samples sent to the lab
  • with results take about 48 hours

Antigen testing

  • a saliva based test
  • can be conducted by a medical professional, in places such as care homes
  • cited as the ‘world’s first fully automate molecular diagnostic test able to determine an infection with SARS-CoV-2 and nine other respiratory viruses within 2.5 hours (Medical Advice Network)
  • with results that can be quicker than PCR tests

Lateral flow testing

  • tested via urine, blood, saliva, serum and other fluids
  • identifies if a person is asymptomatic
  • can be used to screen individuals, prior to entering closed public areas such as airplanes
  • with results in 15 minutes

20 second test

  • via portable saliva samples
  • machine detects the virus
  • as trialled in Heathrow Airport
  • with results in 20 seconds

Type #2 of COVID-19 test: Antibody Tests

Antibody tests are for someone who has had COVID-19 previously, to check if they could have built up antibodies:

  • usually via blood tests
  • checks patients that have had COVID-19 symptoms, that disappeared three to four weeks before
  • identifies whether or not patients have produced antibodies to fight the virus
  • offered on the NHS and privately

It is important to note that there are many types of COVID-19 tests still in development, awaiting approval for use. These include a new ‘finger-prick’ antibody test for home use, which won’t require medical supervision or lab testing. As such, this test could be a useful option for travellers to perform themselves, post-trip.

Testing Options

Before booking a trip, it’s important to check you are legally allowed to travel. Click here for the latest government advice on:

  • Information on coronavirus
  • Safety and security
  • Entry requirements, and
  • Travel warnings

If you find out your trip does require a pre-trip COVID test: they are available on the NHS, or via private sellers.

Costs for tests can range from free (NHS), to £120 each from high street and in-airport pharmacies. Whilst it certainly provides travellers with more options, the cost of a pre-trip test should be taken into consideration.

According to the government website, not all of the privately available tests are suitable for use. It is advisable to seek expert advice before purchasing.

A number of airports, hotels and airlines are also supplying COVID testing provisions:

  • Heathrow Airport delivered a successful 3-week trial of British start-up iAbra’s screening device, delivering COVID-19 Test results in 20 seconds. Read More>> 
  • Accor Sofitel Heathrow is offering ‘test and rest’ packages with overnight COVID testing and a pre-flight stay in their hotel. Read More>> 
  • From 16 November, United Airlines is launching a four-week trial of what it says are the ‘world’s first free Covid-19 tests for transatlantic passengers’. Read More>>  

So, what type of COVID-19 test do you need before travel?

For the meantime, up-to-date advice is available, but continuing to change on a daily basis. Indeed, testing requirements will vary according to each individual trip.

As tests are approved, new methods of testing become available, and countries amend entry requirements, we must continue to review the latest best practice and travellers should continue to seek expert advice.

Updates are available on the Government Website, as well as through airlines and Travel Management Companies.

All MIDAS Travel clients are advised on necessary requirements prior to each trip. For any queries, Get in Touch with your team.


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