The difficult return home at Christmas when PCR is worth more than the plane

The tourism sector and residents outside of Spain are pressing for the Government to also accept antigen tests, which are cheaper but less reliable

Going home for Christmas is becoming for Spaniards living in other countries something more expensive and complicated than they imagined when they booked their plane tickets. Since last Monday, travelers must present a negative PCR carried out in the 72 hours prior to their arrival at Spanish airports, under threat of a fine of up to 6,000 euros. There are countries, such as France, that reimburse the cost of this private test, but most do not cover the cost, which can exceed 200 euros, as in Sweden. The malaise among Spaniards living abroad is beginning to reach the ears of consulates and embassies, which are receiving more and more inquiries.

Those of Carla Lane, a 24-year-old Spaniard who is studying a master’s degree at Oxford this year, fell on deaf ears. The only thing that she and her friend Rubén made clear was that the test that the British health care does free does not work. “It has been an odyssey to find a test,” he says. A laboratory in the English city asked them 275 pounds, so they looked for other options, such as the popular chain of pharmacies Boots, which charges 120. But there were no free appointments that coincided with the 72 hours before their flight, on the 7th. She has chosen to pay £ 175 to a laboratory that will send her the kit with the swab to take the sample herself at home and that will give her results within 24 hours. It’s not perfect, he says, and it’s still expensive, but I wanted to put an end to the uncertainty and stress of the past few days: “I don’t want to risk not being allowed to get on the plane.”

Others have ruled out flying these parties. This is the case of Sally Davies, a 50-year-old Londoner living in Barcelona. She was already doubting whether it was worth taking risks visiting her parents in the UK, and the obstacles to going to and from Spain have finally convinced her. On the way, he would have to quarantine for 14 days and on the return, have the negative PCR. “If you go for a week, you have to be confined and break the confinement to do a PCR to return to Spain. It’s absurd ”, he laments. And the economic expense is also a handicap: “In London it costs 200 pounds a PCR. I have a daughter. It would be 400 pounds more apart from the trip ”, he protests, and demands that the antigen tests be accepted as proof to travel, faster and cheaper.

The tourism sector and airlines are also pushing for these tests to be accepted. “Hoteliers are already noticing the lower demand since the mandatory PCR came into force,” explains Javier Gándara, president of the Airline Association. His organization is in favor of diagnostic tests at the entrance, but calls for them to be “affordable and fast.” “Air tickets are cheaper than PCR,” he exclaims. And the saturation of the laboratories is also a problem. Some are cured in health and in the small print they reflect that they do not commit to having the result in a certain period.

“The test that offers greater security is PCR, which is why it is required at the source,” explains a spokesman for the Ministry of Health about the possibility of accepting the antigen test. Experts say that this test, which gives results in 15 minutes and does not require a laboratory or specialized personnel, is very useful for some things but not for others. “In asymptomatic patients it remains to be seen if they work well. At the moment they are not validated and we fear that they have a low sensitivity ”, explains Julio García, spokesman for the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology. The tests are recommended when there are symptoms of between two and five days of evolution or in cases of close contact with a positive.

However, Health is using them at airports when people arrive who do not have a negative PCR done. “The result is obtained in a very short time and the traveler leaves the airport with his result. If it is positive, its confirmation by PCR should be evaluated, “says the ministry. The traveler gets the test for free, but it is likely that they will leave the airport with a complaint. Health did not confirm if it has, or how many.

Airlines do not check the result of the PCR for data protection; They only make sure that the passenger has filled out the health control form and obtained a QR code to access the terminal. It is the Foreign Health officials who control the result of the test upon arrival, request antigen tests if necessary and report the passenger who does not present the PCR.

“There are many elements that prevent easy mobility and they are on purpose. We cannot think that we are going to have them all with us when there is a pandemic: there must be restrictions ”, defends Daniel López-Acuña, former Director of Emergencies at the WHO. The expert considers the evidence “reasonable” to avoid imported cases, although he regrets the lack of “a unified policy in the European Union.” López-Acuña also calls it “dangerous” for airlines to push with the use of antigen tests: “They will not give sufficient reliability for asymptomatic cases and they will sneak positive.”

Fernando Simón, spokesman for the Center for Health Alerts, said in an appearance on the 12th that the number of imported cases is “very low” and that it does not compensate for the effort to detect the few positives that may enter through airports. Since May 11, imported cases are 0.3% of the total, according to Health.

Some regional Executives are already on the move. The Balearic Islands announced this Thursday that it will pay the PCR to the residents of the islands who live outside the archipelago and who go to the islands to see their families on the next bridge. The president of the regional Executive, Francina Armengol, affirms that they are working with the central government to close an agreement that will make it possible to demand PCR from national travelers arriving in the archipelago.

With information from Lluís Pellicer, Ana Carbajosa, Silvia Ayuso, Rafa de Miguel Y Lucia Bohorquez.

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