LONDON (Reuters) - British high-street pharmacy chain Boots said on Monday it was launching in-store COVID-19 testing at 120 pounds ($156) per test for asymptomatic people, and that a 12-minute test would be launched within weeks.
Boots, a ubiquitous presence in shopping areas across Britain, said the service could be used as a private pre-flight testing service or simply for people who want reassurance before seeing friends and family.
The chain has already been running a testing service for passengers about to travel to the United Arab Emirates, and will start broadening and scaling up that service this week.
Britons with COVID symptoms can get publicly funded COVID-19 tests for free, but ministers have spoken of the importance of building capacity for regular mass-testing that can pick up cases in people who are asymptomatic too.
Boots, which sells medicines, toiletries, beauty products and other goods, said the tests would initially be available in 10 stores across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, expanding to over 50 stores in coming weeks.
Boots' Managing Director Seb James said that the service had upfront costs but the price could be lowered if it proved popular.
"We hope that take-up will be big and we can therefore reduce our price," he told Sky News. "(Also) we know that new technologies are coming that make the testing much cheaper."
Boots said it would also soon be rolling out a swab-based COVID test which delivered results within 12 minutes, which would also cost 120 pounds. James said this had been approved by Britain's medical regulator but was not yet accepted as a pre-flight testing service.
The asymptomatic testing service at Boots currently uses PCR tests, which can take up to 48 hours to process in laboratories.
If demand is strong for the PCR tests, the service could be rolled out to some 200 stores over the coming months, Boots said.
As things stand, people willing to pay for PCR tests at private clinics, some of which promise to return results within 24 or 48 hours, are likely to be charged 200 pounds or more per test.
(Reporting by Alistair Smout, editing by Estelle Shirbon)