Most PCR tests require having an uncomfortable nasal and throat swab but Halo sells less invasive, do-it-yourself saliva-based test kits for travellers that can be posted to your home. Jenny Southan reports
Depending on your vaccine status and where you are travelling from, you will probably need to do at least one PCR test on arrival in the UK to confirm you are not infected with Covid.
Earlier this summer, my parents and brother needed to travel from France, where they live, to the UK. At the time, my parents were fully vaccinated but my brother wasn’t and France was on the amber list, but there were no exemptions to the testing requirements for people who had been double jabbed (now you only need a day 2 test).
I suggested they try out Halo’s saliva-based PCR testing service, which is approved by the UK government, as it seemed one of the most convenient products out there.
Because my family didn’t want to have to do the full ten-day qurantine, they chose to also order an additional day 5 “Test to Release” kit, which means that if you test negative, you can stop isolating sooner.
For three people, this means buying three kits each (a bundle costs £239) for day 2, 5 and 8, at a total cost of £717. Shockingly expensive. You need to have proof you have bought this tests in advance of travelling otherwise they won’t let you into the UK.
Test kit delivery
One of the advantages, I thought, of using Halo was that the kits could be ordered in advance and posted through the letterbox of the home they were staying at so they would be waiting for them when they arrived. (All Halo kits are sent via courier rather than Royal Mail, which seems more reliable.)
However, my family got to the house they were staying in, there was a note from the courier company to say that delivery had been attempted and because no one was there to sign for them, they would have to organise for them to be redelivered.
(A single kit can be posted through the letter box but because there was a huge bundle of nine kits plus a load of clear plastic bags for the samples to go in, they couldn’t go through the letterbox.)
For any traveller, this is almost always going to be a problem unless they are only ordering one single kit that can go through the letterbox, or someone is at home to sign for the parcel.
A spokesperson for Halo told Globetrender: “In terms of logistics, our standard service is delivery the next day (if you order before 5pm) . We have a standing instruction for single kits and our travel kits to be posted if the customer is unavailable. This service is available Monday to Friday.”
The next problem was my family couldn’t book the Halo courier for day 2 pick-up until they received the kits, but they kits didn’t arrive until the morning of day 2 (the day of arrival is counted as day 0).
They then asked to have a courier pick them up but because day 2 was a Friday, were told a courier couldn’t pick them up until Monday, which was going to be day 5 for them, and the day when the courier would be picking up the day 5 samples for Test to Release.
This is what they did but it meant the day 2 tests results were redundant. But in reality day 2 results are always redundant because you have to quarantine for at least five days anyway. So what’s the point?
Registering the kits
When it comes to taking the tests, users have to register each kit via Halo’s dedicated smartphone app. However, my brother’s iPhone was broken and my Dad’s was out of date so he couldn’t download the app.
We were told registration could be done from a computer but they couldn’t find a way to make that work (the link is here). Luckily my mum’s phone worked and she registered all of the tests on her device.
My parents found the overall process incredibly difficult – they didn’t even know how to scan a QR code with their phone.
Taking the tests
The fact that Halo’s tests only require you to spit in a tube means it is a far better product that competitors that require invasive nasal and throat swabs, which are not suitable for some people and are very hard to get children to endure.
Once you have filled the supplied vial with saliva, you just need to scan the bar code with the Halo app and place it in the packaging provided to courier it to one of Halo’s dedicated labs, which are working to identify new Covid strains.
(Having process samples at a lab means PCR tests are more expensive than rapid antigen/lateral flow tests – and the reason we can’t all just do rapid antigen/lateral flow tests is that the UK government wants to harvest the data from the results. Unfortunately, consumers have to foot the bill, which seems very unfair.)
Halo says it is the only test service to partner with UCL and the Francis Crick Institute to detect and protect against new variants.
Getting the results
As mentioned, the courier sent by Halo didn’t arrive until day 5, at which point they took six samples away with them for processing. The whole point of paying for a day 5 test is to be released ASAP – the best option in this case is finding an option that provides guaranteed same-day results.
However, because Halo samples have to be processed overnight, the soonest they will arrive back is day 6. My families results for day 2 and day 5 tests arrived on the evening of day 6, which they were very frustrated about.
Globetrender spoke to Halo about this and they said: “In terms of the return, customers can book their collection up to 5pm Monday through Friday. Collections take place the following business day.
“It’s worth noting that London postcodes are delivered and collected seven days a week and we are looking to push that out to within the M25 in the coming weeks.
“Halo‘s standard nationwide delivery and collection service is overnight, however customers can arrange special collections within the M25 with prices ranging between £15 to £50 depending on postcode.
“This can be booked via our call centre and is helpful for people wanting to make the most of the test to release initiative. HALO also offers a wait and return service for very urgent tests priced at £215 for anywhere within the M25 (this includes the test kit).
“Once the samples arrive at our lab results are within 24 hours, although in practice this is normally between eight and 12 hours”
At this point, it is worth noting that the UK government’s “Track and Trace” team phoned all my family members every day to confirm they were self-isolating. They didn’t send anyone to the door to check on them though.
Even though they all got negative day 2 and 5 results, and were released from quarantine, they still had to do the day 8 tests. These were done in the same way and results were emailed on day 9.
Halo’s saliva-based testing is great for families with kids but there are flaws in the logistics process and the kits are still expensive (even if they are not the most costly on the market).
If you are paying for day 5 tests, make sure the sample will be picked up between Monday and Thursday (or Wednesday ideally), otherwise you won’t get the results back until Monday or Tuesday the following week as the couriers and labs don’t work at the weekend.
To be honest I wouldn’t choose to do a day 5 test with Halo – it’s better to go to a walk-in clinic.
- £89 for one kit
- £159 for a twin pack
- £239 for a triple pack