Health authorities give thumbs down to at-home PCR tests for UK visitors

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By Orville Williams

Visitors looking to travel from the United Kingdom to Antigua and Barbuda will not be allowed to present the results of at-home PCR tests as valid proof of their Covid-19 status.

That confirmation came yesterday from Cabinet spokesperson, Information Minister Melford Nicholas.

According to the website of the Antigua and Barbuda High Commission in London, “to be accepted, tests must be administered by a medical professional from an accredited or regulated laboratory or medical institution”.

This has already raised concern among current and prospective UK visitors, who have largely been using the at-home tests, given the increased volume of testing being done in their home country.

Speaking to Observer yesterday, UK national and part-time Antiguan resident Janis Hough corroborated the fact that with the strain currently on the UK healthcare system, at-home tests have become the most efficient means of determining one’s Covid-19 status.

“Every single person I know that’s come into the country has used the home-testing PCR. The first time I came back, I drove all the way to Bristol to get a test – a 100-plus mile round journey – [and] I tried to book there to do it this time, and I couldn’t get in,” she said.

While speaking during Thursday’s post-Cabinet media briefing, Nicholas got verification on the health authorities’ stance from Dr Lester Simon, who is in charge of the testing laboratory at Mount St John’s Medical Centre.

According to Dr Simon, “the at-home PCR test has to do with samples taken at home. The Chief Medical Officer asked me about it and I suggested that we do not accept these”.

Nicholas then added, “if persons are taking the samples at home and then taking them in for PCR, I suppose that there’s a degree to which we cannot vouch for the validity of those tests…I believe that this is the matter to which the website was referring [but] it will require further qualification and such that we can expand on it, so that there is no doubt”.

Hough, meanwhile, also spoke on the scrutiny surrounding the validity of the at-home tests, saying the substantial cost alone would likely deter any misconduct.

“I’ve been having a great debate with different people and some [are] basically inferring that if you have a home test, it isn’t valid. I think what they’re forgetting is if you are paying upwards of £150 [EC$524] to do the test, you are going to do it appropriately. Otherwise, there isn’t enough of your DNA on the swab for them to actually get a result in the first place.

“There was no difference between what the nurse did and what I did, because I’ve got a vested interest in getting a result that has to have enough of my DNA on it and hopefully [is] negative so that I can travel,” she explained.

With several airlines scheduled to resume services from the UK to Antigua – and some that have already started – it remains to be seen exactly what impact this declaration will have on tourist arrivals.

While accepting there might be some fallout, Nicholas indicated that they are prepared to make the sacrifice in order to protect the population.

“It probably would have a dampening effect, yes, but I think we would rather err on the side of caution than to go for the volumes and increase the risk,” he added.

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