Criticism of PCR test sees Costa Rica scrap requirement for visitors to prove they're Covid-free

Chris Moss
·4 min read
British Airways is offering bookings on direct flights to San José, the Costa Rican capital, from December - Getty
British Airways is offering bookings on direct flights to San José, the Costa Rican capital, from December - Getty

Costa Rica, which has gradually been opening up its tourism sector since August, has now removed the requirement for foreign visitors to present a negative RT-PCR (Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction) test on arrival.

On October 22, Costa Rica’s tourism minister, Gustavo J. Segura, announced the removal of entry restrictions based on residence and citizenship for all countries, starting November 1. This means visitors from all states in the USA – by far the most significant market for Costa Rica’s ecotourism offering – will be welcome.

He also announced that, starting on Monday, October 26, no travellers flying to Costa Rica will need a negative Covid test to enter the country.

The Central American country – famous for its “pura vida” lifestyle and national parks – is putting into practice the findings of a report published by the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) on October 5 and reissued on October 9. 

Based in Washington DC, the PAHO – the regional representative of the World Health Organisation and part of the United Nations – accepts that people who are sick should not travel. 

However, its report contains recommendations on how governments and public health authorities might permit the resumption of “non-essential travel”, with stern advice on how they should not treat foreign citizens. 

 Tortuguero National Reserve - Getty
Tortuguero National Reserve - Getty

“International travellers should not be regarded and managed as contacts of Covid-19 cases and should not be required to quarantine in the destination country,” it says. “International travellers should not be regarded and managed as suspected Covid-19 cases and should not be subjected to sampling and isolation in the destination country.”

The PAHO notes that some interventions, such as body temperature screening and health declarations, can “generate a false sense of security.” 

It also states that the “testing of prospective or incoming international travellers is not recommended as a tool to mitigate the risk of international spread”, arguing that an RT-PCR test is not a reliable indicator of a person’s Covid-19 status and might also provide a false sense of security.  

PCR tests, it adds, can detect viral RNA weeks and even months after clinical recovery. 

Most countries already have laws that forbid Covid-19 patients and their contacts from travelling. Such legislation, combined with the controlled environments of aircraft and airports, mean the cohort that travels may well be healthier than most other people. 

“The prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 virus infection among international travellers is expected to be lower than in the general population in their location at origin,” declares the PAHO report.   

The problem with Covid testing
The problem with Covid testing

Those arriving in Costa Rica will now only have to complete a form to receive a QR code. They must also have travel insurance, and Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems in the region. 

For UK-based tour firms specialising in the region, the reopening of one of the most popular family and adventure tourism destinations is a bit of good news after a very difficult summer. 

“I’m delighted that Costa Rica has once again shown a measured and scientific response to manage Covid-19,” says Edward Paine, founder and managing director of specialist tour operator Last Frontiers. 

“Their case mortality rate is particularly low, an indication of their success in treating the disease. By re-opening its borders for tourism to selected countries, which include the UK, and now by removing the requirement for a negative PCR test, it will save jobs and livelihoods as tourism is given a chance to recover. 

Idyllic Playa Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula - Getty
Idyllic Playa Samara on the Nicoya Peninsula - Getty

“We already have enquiries for December, a lovely time to be there. Now we just need the UK government to remove their illogical blanket travel advisory which makes finding travel insurance such a challenge, and life can start to return to an industry that has been in enforced hibernation since April.”

British Airways is offering bookings on direct flights to San José, the Costa Rican capital, from December. There are also several options through European hubs. The FCO currently advises against all travel to mainland destinations in the Americas, and travellers returning from the region must self-isolate for two weeks. 

To date, Costa Rica, which has a population of five million, has recorded 105,322 cases of coronavirus and 1,329 deaths.