Analysis shows that only 44 – or 3% – of the 1,388 positive test results on people arriving from Amber countries in the three weeks leading up to June 30 were genomically sequenced to identify variants. This compares to 61% in the three weeks leading up to March 17.
There was a similar drop even for travelers returning from Red List countries – including South Africa, South America and India where three of the variants first appeared.
Official data, analyzed by the House of Commons Library, showed that the proportion of positive tests from Red List countries that were sequenced increased from 65% to 13% during the same period.
The disclosure comes as it emerged that travelers to and from the UK have shelled out £ 380million for expensive PCR tests over the past six months, supposedly so the government can track the variants. The ability to sequence the genome of PCR test samples to check for variants has been used by ministers as the main reason for requiring travelers to pay for them, even if they have been fully vaccinated.
Layla Moran, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the coronavirus, which commissioned the research, said the numbers were “staggering” at a time when concerns over the beta variant had led to new strict quarantine restrictions for France.
“The rise of the beta variant in neighboring countries should sound the alarm bells for the government. Yet instead, ministers are dismantling our defenses against the virus and opening the floodgates to new variants, ”she said.
“It seems vital lessons have yet to be learned from the failure to prevent the Delta variant from taking hold in the UK. The government must urgently resolve this scandal and step up the sequencing of test results, before more dangerous Covid variants slip through the net. “
Karen Dee, CEO of the Airport Operators Association, said: “It’s hard to understand why the government doesn’t sequence the results, while still expecting people to pay more for the test.
“If it is no longer important to sequence, then faster and cheaper tests should replace expensive PCR tests for travel. ”