Roberta Barcella recounts the tribulations of exercising her freedom to see her family in Italy during Covid-19.


Like many Europeans, I waited months to see my family and I was thrilled to finally see them this year.

But I still felt deeply disappointed when I heard the government’s announcement that my country, Italy, would be on the amber list. 

I understand the precautionary measures being taken to protect us. But many of the rules currently being enforced are discriminatory and do not make sense.

I had already bought my tickets when the announcement was made. I had decided that whatever the rules imposed, I would visit my family as I had not seen them since October 2020 thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. My mother is 91 years old. Time is not on my side.

As I organised the trip, I realised how many rules had to be followed, documents drawn up and expensive tests passed to be able to travel to a country on the amber list.

In a state of growing anxiety, I arranged my first Covid-19 test. I had to carry it out at one of the providers recommended on the government website. The cheapest I could find was an antigen test which cost £29.

It didn’t help that due to the uncertainty that still exists regarding the tests the same provider made a mistake. This meant I had to repeat the test twice, remaining until the day I left with the doubt that the antigen test I had undergone was the right one. Peculiar when you realise you can collect an identical rapid test for free at the pharmacy. 

When I arrived in Italy the authorities asked for a copy of the test and the passenger locator form, which informs them where you are going to stay during your holiday so they can contact you in case anyone on your flight tests positive for Covid-19. The Italian authorities did not ask me if I had paid for my test or not.

On the return trip the Italian national health system gave me a free antigen test and gave me the result in English, as required by the rules in force in the UK. But the UK rules also require that you take the test again, and that you pay for it. So they required I purchase a package of two tests — again from a specified private provider — to be carried out on the second and eighth days of quarantine. On the list published on the government website from which you are obliged to choose, the cheapest I could find cost £96.

In Italy it doesn’t matter if you pay for the test or not, while in the UK the government only accepts tests from specified private providers. At that point you ask yourself, do the authorities lack confidence in the NHS? Or is the process set up to punish those who dare to leave?

In Italy it doesn’t matter if you pay for the test or not, while in the UK the government only accepts tests from specified private providers. Image: Unsplash.

The queue to board my Manchester flight at the Milan airport proceeded slowly. There was a lot of paperwork to show, and I was asked for the booking reference number of the second and eighth day tests.

A woman with her two children, a boy and a girl, were travelling alongside me. I asked her if she had to do the procedures for all three of them as the children were quite young. She told me that she had had to pay for a test for herself and for her daughter who was over six years old, at the price of £200 each. “The trip cost me less than the tests,” she remarked.

It is clear the testing system serves only to discourage travelling and to induce families to spend their money in the UK. In troubled times such as these it is a deeply unfair measure on those who do not have their family in the UK, and who face financial limitations just to go and see their loved ones.

As ever, it is the poorest who bear the brunt of these costs. While the wealthy can cover the cost of each test, those worse off have to choose between paying their bills and seeing loved ones. The freedom to see their family overseas comes at a price.

Things could be done differently. Until recently, people arriving in Italy who had not taken a Covid-19 test were given a free antigen test at the airport there and then, or at national health system centres. Now they only need a test within 48 hours before their arrival, with no particular indication of where to take the test, or if they paid for it or not. The only information they want is if the test is positive or negative. 

The important thing is that people are protected, the community is protected, a large part of the tourism industry is also protected because people are entering the country safely. But looking abroad we can see that we can protect everyone’s health while keeping our humanity.

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Featured image: Halfpoint/Shutterstock.

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  • Roberta Barcella

    Roberta is a freelance writer, of Italian heritage, who now lives and works in Salford.


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