Dr Natalie Kenny, founder of Liverpool COVID testing firm BioGrad Diagnostics is urging the Government to clamp down on travellers trying to get around new restrictions. Tony McDonough reports
Some travellers are using codes from old PCR COVID tests to avoid paying for new tests and self-isolating, a Liverpool expert is warning.
Dr Natalie Kenny, founder and chief executive of BioGrad Diagnostics, is backing concerns raised by industry body, the Laboratory and Testing Industry Organisation (LTIO) about the phenomenon which could heighten the risk of the spread of the virus.
Her fears have been heightened by the appearance of a new strain of COVID-19, Omicron, which has prompted the Government to tighten control measures. This includes the reintroduction of mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport.
It also means that people arriving in England from overseas are now required to pay for a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival and have to self-isolate until they have received a negative result.
However, the LTIO says evidence has emerged that some people are attempting to bypass the measures by putting codes from negative PCR tests they had taken previously on their passenger locator forms.
Dr Kenny, who is has put her rapidly-growing COVID testing company on the market with a multi-million pound price tag, said: “As a founding member of the LTIO, we are working together with the most reputable COVID testing companies to self-regulate and the newest trend of people reusing codes is a real concern.
“The LTIO has already raised this issue with the Government and it is now up to them to fix this as quickly as possible. Companies on the approved list have been selling tests with a code to be used on passenger locator forms.
“But the government has not been removing these codes when used, meaning they can be reused. I’m worried that this mismanagement of the system will become the norm – with it now more important than ever to protect the country, by not letting untested people in and out of the country.”
Diagnostics was set up by Dr Kenny in 2014. Based at Liverpool Science Park, the firm was set up to offer laboratory and clinical training to science students, graduate researchers and teachers from across the globe.
However, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, BioGrad pivoted towards COVID testing and has since seen significant growth with EBITDA (a measure of profitability) expected to exceed £10m this year. It employs more than 280 people.
On the emergence of the Omicron variant, Dr Kenny added: “I’m currently extremely frustrated and I speak for many in the industry when I say this. The new strain, Omicron, hasn’t simply come out of the blue and it is only a shock for many as we have not been conducting adequate genome sequencing to test for new strains and variants.
“In early October I spoke to the press with regards to the fact that if we didn’t continue to genome sequence, we would end up back in the situation that we were in in March 2020. The fact that the transport secretary has had a huge part to play in the lack of PCR testing and genome sequencing is of grave concern to me.
“The latest changes to travel are of course extremely hard to take for the travel industry, but we must remember that travel is a luxury and we are still in the middle of a global pandemic.”