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Airport test provider warns labs are on ‘brink of collapse’ amid Portugal scramble

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As holidaymakers scramble for last-minute flights home from Portugal, a travel testing firm has warned that labs are on “the brink of collapse”.

Ross Tomkins, managing director of Salutaris People, a firm that provides rapid PCR Covid testing at Liverpool airport, warns that holidaymakers will face further delays as testing labs fail to keep up with demand.

His comments come as thousands of passengers are jostling for flights back to the UK from Portugal and testing kits before tomorrow’s self-isolation deadline.

In last Thursday’s traffic light reshuffle, Portugal was downgraded to amber from green, with transport secretary Grant Shapps blaming a rise in cases of the Delta variant and a higher positivity rate.

More than 40 flights from the Algarve airport are scheduled to operate to the UK, carrying an estimated 7,000 passengers. British Airways is deploying its biggest jet, the Boeing 777, to boost capacity in the evacuation.

Tens of thousands of British travellers had flocked to Portugal, particularly the Algarve, after it became the only accessible mainstream holiday destination on the quarantine-free “green list” on 17 May.

According to Mr Tomkins, the labs are “overwhelmed” with the rise in self-administered postal PCR tests that are required for both Fit to Fly and post-arrival tests, leading to some results being “delayed” or passengers receiving inconclusive results.

“Last week we processed 150 tests booked by airline passengers and holidaymakers, all of whom had their PCR tests lost, delayed or returned ‘unclear’,” said Mr Tomkins.

“It is clear to see that the laboratories are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testing kits being sent in by airline passengers eager to get away on holiday. As a result of this, the labs are losing test kits or mixing up test results, while others are being delayed and a large percentage are coming back with ‘unclears.’ When an ‘unclear’ happens, it is either down to the test being self-administered or due to leakage in transit.”

He added that passengers will then have to stump up the money for another test.

“It is also creating chaos and anxiety for airline passengers when all they want to do is jump on a plane and take a holiday. We can clearly see that the laboratory testing is now at capacity and is on the verge of collapse. This is only going to get worse, rather than better, and will lead to many disappointed holidaymakers and airline passengers, whose plans could be seriously affected.”

The testing firm recommends holidaymakers don’t rely on self-administered tests, as human error can occur.

“As the airlines and tour operators have elected to give passengers subsidised PCR tests, which they self-administer, this has also in turn led to a significant rise in the number of ‘unclears’ being returned,” said Ben Paglia of AKEA Life, the clinical testing partner of Salutaris People.

“PCR tests need to be administered by a healthcare professional to ensure they are done correctly and minimise the risk of ‘unclears’.”

Separately, Randox Health, which provides Covid tests for travel, has dropped the price of its PCR test to £43, a rate available through airlines and tour operators.

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