'Dangerous' loophole allows travellers to provide fake Covid test code to enter UK

21 December 2021, 08:01 | Updated: 21 December 2021, 21:55

A loophole has been discovered with travel PCR tests.
A loophole has been discovered with travel PCR tests. Picture: Alamy

By Charlotte Lynch

A "dangerous" loophole in the Government's system for international travel allows people entering the UK to deceive border officials by giving a fake code as 'proof' of booking a COVID-19 PCR test.

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Currently, all arrivals from abroad must take a PCR test by the end of their second day in the UK and isolate until they receive a negative result, to help tackle the spread of the Omicron variant.

They must have filled out a passenger locator form, where they must prove they have arranged and paid for the test by providing the booking reference number.

But LBC has discovered that entering a random combination of letters and numbers, regardless of whether it's a genuine code, generates the form and QR code instantly.

LBC successfully entered 5 different combinations which allowed the system to progress to the next stage of submitting the details to generate the form.

It is available for download instantly, suggesting the test code is not checked to ensure its authenticity.

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Sally Cutler, professor in microbiology at the University of East London, told LBC: "It is dangerous - people are just thinking of themselves.

"If you’ve travelled from another country, you've probably been in close proximity and sharing air with a number of other people, and that's going to put you at higher risk of contracting Covid.

"These rules have been put in place to screen those people coming in from overseas, to try and ensure they aren't going anywhere for a couple of days until they get a negative PCR test.

"That, we hope, will mean we can easily pick up on anything that might have been brought in - like Omicron."

Professor Cutler said the loophole, leaving the UK vulnerable to other new variants entering the country, is "obviously a concern".

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People caught lying on a passenger locator form face up to 10 years in prison and a £10,000 fine.

Anybody arriving in the UK without having completed one can be fined £500.

But Professor Cutler told LBC: "The likelihood of officials having time to actually go and find that evidence is quite small.

"Who’s going to police them? There are so many people travelling - and there are so many people off sick with COVID.

"It's unlikely people are going to check because they aren't going to have the capacity and the manpower."

International arrivals must pay for a test through a private firm, as NHS swabs are not accepted. The Government lists more than 1,000 'approved providers' on it’s website.

Professor Cutler told LBC: "I don't know how much the Government has actually investigated these approved providers.

"Are they running quality control schemes for them? How often are they doing that, and are they actually vetting those results?"

A Government spokesperson said: "Everyone entering the UK must purchase their travel tests from a private testing provider and enter the details in their passenger locator form.

"It is the responsibility of the passenger to ensure this form is correctly completed and it is a criminal offence to provide false or deliberately misleading information – this could lead to a fine or imprisonment."