Rigid covid testing rules add to frustration of COP26 participants

·3-min read

Thousands of COP26 participants – delegates, observers, journalists and people from NGOs – have been made to face hurdles that have added an extra dimension of frustration to the crucially important international event. Those hurdles centre on a Covid-19 testing system that is far from waterproof.

"That's as far as we go, mate," says the cheerful cabby, stopping near a McDonald's restaurant – the COP26 venue looming at the end of an impossibly long looking street. Fully packed, two RFI journalists had come straight from the airport following a trip from Paris that had a stopover in London.

Bureaucratic hassles – not related to the COP26 – had already started with the check in. Unprepared passengers had to fill in an obligatory "passenger location form (PLF)" which includes the obligatory purchase of a costly "Day 2 Lateral Flow Antigen Test" to be delivered our hotels.

A helpful UK government website lists 549 different companies which offer their products. Prices vary from £4,99 for a "self swab at home" test by Covidtestingdirect to a staggering £500,00 for a test "supervised at home" under the "Test-to-release" programme (only for passengers who must undergo quarantaine measures) by Atlas Medical Services.

Only an online purchase will give the traveller the booking reference they need to complete the PLF and board their flight.

Grumbling

The measure caused substantial delays and general grumbling. One passenger who didn't make it in time had his luggage taken off the plane. Two days after my arrival, my test still had not arrived at the hotel.

In London Heathrow, passengers were politely asked to "remain seated" as the "expedited suspended passenger entry system" that moving corridor that connects planes with terminals, had grinded to a halt just two metres away from the plane. It was impossible to move.

After some 40 minutes during which passengers with connecting flights grew increasingly nervous, a staircase was found and everybody – business class included – was invited to leave through the backdoor, then walk a stretch to the terminal as no buses were available.

The flight to Glasgow went smoothly, but then the trouble started. Upon arrival at the COP26 site, the vast Scottish Event Campus, security guards clad in yellow vests demanded negative results of a Covid-test, a procedure that was to be repeated on a daily basis.

This involved online registering with the UK's health service NHS, doing two tests, and then be confined in a waiting room until results would come in.

The results didn't immediately (I got my negative result around 00:11 am the next morning), so a helpful minder phoned directly to the NHS in order to clear me ... so I could go through the venue entry, luggage check, another 200 meters walking through corridors and pick up my badge – a small victory.

The daily Covid-swab-checks in my hotel room required a serial number from the test kit to be uploaded to the NHS. But no one checks the test itself and it is unclear how many of the COP26 participants actually performed it and truthfully reported the result.

My hotel, the spooky-looking "Douglas Hotel", was some 9 kilometers outside the city centre. A tiny room cost 834,51 euros for three days, with no breakfast or restaurant facilities within a 10 minute walk.

According to a quick scan at tourism site Booking.com, the price for the hotel was set to drop below 50 euros after the end of the COP26.

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