Home Testing Kits Returning a High Number of ‘Unclear’ Results

Home Testing Kits Returning a High Number of ‘Unclear’ Results

The high cost of PCR testing has resulted in the spread of discounted home testing kits being offered by operators and airlines as a booking incentive.

But indications are that many of these kits return untrustworthy results, meaning that passengers are forced to pay for a second, more expensive test at the airport before departure.

Return of Travel

It looks likely that international leisure travel will resume from 19 July, which will come as a huge relief to the travel industry and everyone else who has been cooped up at home for a year or more.

But the issue of PCR tests will undoubtedly remain a hot button topic, especially their high cost – the cheapest currently available are €89 for next-day results. If you’re a family of five, that can add up.

IATA, the ITAA, the WHO and most other voices in the travel industry have called for the cost of PCR tests to be reduced or subsidised by governments.

And while the European Commission has committed €100 million of emergency support money to help bring down the cost of testing, with another €100 million available if required, there is no sign yet that the cost will actually come down anytime soon.

Discounted Test Kits

In Britain, a number of airlines and operators are offering discounted test kits as a booking incentive. British Airways, for instance, is working with test provider Randox Health to offer customers home PCR tests from £60 – a 30 per cent discount on the typical cost of a test.

These are home test kits, where you do the test yourself and send off the swab, with results usually available within 24 hours.

A Cautionary Tale

But British Healthcare company Salutaris People, which provides rapid PCR testing at Liverpool John Lennon Airport, has reported a “10-fold surge” in bookings for its rapid PCR tests over the last two weeks.

The company is attributing this increase to problems with self-administered tests offered by tour operators and airlines that have returned an “unclear” result – requiring a second rapid test so passengers didn’t miss their scheduled flights and holidays.

An ‘unclear’ test result is when a PCR test does not indicate either a ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ test result and is returned inconclusive from the laboratory.

Ben Paglia MD of AKEA Life, who are the clinical testing partners to Salutaris People, said: “We have experienced a surge in the last two weeks, which has been due to a number of airline passengers booking secondary PCR tests with us.

“Many of those have come from passengers who have booked flights with airlines and package holiday operators. They have been sent PCR postal kits, which are self-administered.

These test results have come back as “unclear” from the laboratories.  This means they were not clear to fly and needed to take a second PCR test.”

Unclear test results can occur for two reasons, according to Paglia.

“More often than not, this is down to the test being self-administered by the public and not carried out by a trained healthcare professional. The secondary reason is down to the way in which the tests are transported to the lab, which can also affect the test result.

“With the airlines and travel companies using postal PCR test kits, there is the continued risk of more incidents like this occurring. This not only creates a further cost for the passenger with secondary testing, but also creates uncertainty over whether the test result will come back unclear.”


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Fionn Davenport is the editor-in-chief of the ITTN group, including ITTN and ITTN Ireland. He's one of Ireland's best-known travel journalists and writers, with nearly 30 years' experience writing guidebooks for Lonely Planet and others.

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