Into the expensive labyrinth of Covid testing

My trip to Venice is coming to an end . Hand on heart, I have to say there’s never been one like it. I’ve learned more about what travelling in pandemic times entails than I ever expected. Or wanted to know. But five days of quarantine notwithstanding it’s been worth it.

Now to deal with the complexities of returning to the UK from Italy as a UK citizen who’s had two jabs. It’s more complicated than it seems and as you’ll soon learn can involve you wasting money on outfits that don’t deserve it.

To get back home I need to do two things. First, take a simple rapid antigen test which, if negative, should get me on the plane and into the country. I won’t be doing this until less than 48 hours before the flight so I will describe that process once I’ve tried it.

The test that does require attention now, before I set off home, is the one I need to take within two days of landing. This isn’t the rapid test but the more thorough and expensive PCR one which involves a swab being sent away to a lab for analysis. You have to book and pay for your two day PCR test before leaving for the airport. Whoever you use will give you a reference code that must be inserted into the UK Passenger Locator Form which you need to fill in before travelling.

Most PCR tests happen the same way. You swab yourself, you send off the sample, it goes into the lab. I paid £48 for one from a company called Randox which is on the easyJet recommended list .

This was a mistake. It’s money down the drain. I’d assumed it would be easy to return the Randox test from home. Never assume anything about this process.

As soon as I’d bought the kit I received confirmation of the order and the news that, in order to complete the test, I would have to drive the sample one hour up a busy motorway and find a drop box in a motorway service station. The Royal Mail have set up a network of 35,000 priority post boxes around the country specifically to deal with returning Covid tests. There’s one out in the country half a mile from my home. But no, Randox want me to make that drive, make an appointment (honestly) to deliver to another company, or pay and arrange for your own courier. Instead of just dropping it into a priority Royal Mail post box.

This isn’t made clear on their website at all. I just saw this and assumed (that word again) it would be hassle-free.

Only after I’d paid did I get a link to the map that showed me this was all more trouble than it was worth. I’ve been through enough testing hassle on this trip. I’m not taking on more.

I instantly contacted Randox and pointed out this was unworkable for me, could they cancel the order and refund my money. Given some of the reviews of them on TrustPilot I’m not optimistic this is going to happen.

It turns out that a year ago Randox had to recall as many as 750,000 test kits ordered by the UK government because they weren’t sterile. It also turns out, this error notwithstanding, that same government gave Randox a new £347m testing contract, bringing the total the company’s received from our taxes to around £500m.

It also turns out the Conservative MP Owen Paterson is paid £100,000 year as a consultant to Randox and was involved in discussions with the ministers involved as part of a closed process that did not involve competitive bidding. This led the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas to say, ‘We urgently need an independent inquiry into where public money is going as many firms who have benefited seem to have links to the Tory party or individual ministers.’

I’m really not getting that £48 back, am I?

I’ve now ordered the same test from a company called Zava which will let me drop it off in my local priority post box. Will let you know how that goes next week if there’s anything worthwhile to say. I rather hope not. The hassle of ordering tests, filling in forms and trying to understand the various requirements is considerable in all this. I wish I’d realised that from the outset and taken more time to work out what’s needed.

The lesson with returning PCR tests, then, is check them out well in advance and make sure you understand how the sample can be returned. Oh, and perhaps take an iPad or laptop with you and make sure you have an internet connection at the other end. Without online access this would all be very difficult indeed.