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Health secretary Sajid Javid announced a crackdown on Monday on “cowboy” companies selling coronavirus tests at misleading prices on a government website to Britons travelling overseas.
Javid said that 82 companies faced removal from the gov.uk site, some 18 per cent of those listed, over concerns that they are exploiting UK holidaymakers by advertising at cheaper rates on the government website than they charge at their point of sale.
The government has been under mounting pressure to cut the cost of travel tests, amid warnings that high and opaque prices have put people off going on overseas holidays or visiting friends and family abroad.
Under the government’s rules, anyone arriving in England from abroad must take at least one gold standard PCR test to control the spread of Covid-19 and check for new variants of coronavirus.
The number of tests required ranges from one to three, depending on where someone is arriving from, if they are vaccinated and whether they want to cut their quarantine.
People must book their tests through the government site. On Sunday, more than 400 different providers were listed, with prices ranging from £20 to more than £300 for two tests.
It’s absolutely unacceptable for any private testing company to be taking advantage of holidaymakers and today’s action clamps down on this cowboy behaviour
Javid said a rapid review by the health department had found that 82 providers of day two and eight tests showed lower prices on the government site than were available on the companies’ internet pages at the point of checkout.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable for any private testing company to be taking advantage of holidaymakers and today’s action clamps down on this cowboy behaviour,” he added.
The 82 companies will be told that if they advertise misleading prices again they will be removed from the government site under what Javid called a “two-strike warning”.
He added: “We are also introducing regular spot checks this week to make sure all private providers follow the rules and meet our high standards of transparency.”
A further 57 companies are being removed from the government site as they either no longer exist or do not provide the relevant testing.
The information will be shared with the competition regulator to support its inquiry into test providers.
The Competition and Markets Authority launched a probe at Javid’s request, and it will look at whether providers are breaching their obligations under consumer law and should be subject to enforcement action. It will also consider any “structural problems” within the testing market.
Meanwhile young people who have suffered long-term effects from coronavirus have taken part in a new government video intended to persuade their peers to get vaccinated.
More than 1m letters and texts have been sent out by the government to all 16 and 17-year-olds in England to get their jabs, but many young people are refusing to take part in the vaccination programme.
About one in five people admitted to hospital with Covid-19 is now in the 18 to 34 age group. Uptake of the vaccine is lowest in London.
The video shows young Covid-19 patients giving their account of suffering extended debilitating effects. Doctors and other medical staff involved in their treatment are also interviewed.
Ella Harwood, a 23-year-old illustrator from the UK capital, said: “I’m young and fit but I was bed-bound for seven months with Covid-19.
“Before I caught the virus I was super active and had no health concerns, but I now suffer from asthma which I didn’t have before and a number of allergies.”