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UK’s ‘Test to Release’ Travel Scheme Descends Into Farce On Day One

UK’s ‘Test to Release’ Travel Scheme Descends Into Farce On Day One

From today, travellers entering the United Kingdom from pandemic hot spots will be able to exit quarantine after just five days if they get a COVID-19 test from a private supplier. But the long-awaited ‘test to release’ scheme has gotten off to a shaky start with one supplier describing it as a “nightmare” and others saying the requirements demanded by the government have been too “onerous”.

Compounding many of the problems is the fact the UK’s Ministry of Health and Social Care has only approved 11 suppliers for potentially thousands of travellers seeking private tests to get out of self-isolation as soon as possible.

One of those 11 suppliers has already sold out of at-home test kits, another has taken their website offline because it has been deluged with enquiries, while another is apologising for delays in carrying out tests because of the unprecedented demand.

At least two other suppliers didn’t have any testing slots immediately available and were instead asking travellers to register their interest. Travellers could end up self-isolating for far longer than five days while they wait for their test results.

Dr Laurence Gerlis, who runs SameDayDoctor – one of the few suppliers currently approved – told The Independent that he has asked to be removed from the list even though his clinic paid £1,800 just for the application even to be considered.

Government officials only published its list of approved suppliers five hours before the system was due to go live and Dr Gerlis said his clinic almost immediately started to receive hundreds upon hundreds of emails from travellers who were desperate to secure a test.

“I am not sure the demand for this testing was estimated properly. Many people waited for a long time for the list to be published and it went crazy yesterday,” he told The Independent. “I am so sorry we have had to let down so many people”.

The lack of approved testing suppliers could even affect travellers who plan to fly abroad to a country where a negative COVID-19 test certificate is required. The Department of Health has also created a mandatory registration list of approved suppliers of general COVID-19 PCR tests – so far there are only nine suppliers on this approved list.

Many international destinations, such as the United Arab Emirates, will only accept a test certificate from government-approved clinics. The general testing register will, however, only become law on January 1, 2021, which at least gives time for more suppliers to get their applications together for approval.

After months of dithering, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the ‘test to release’ scheme in late November. Shapps said of the scheme: “Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day 5, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.”

The travel industry has welcomed the scheme but argues that it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Instead, airlines including the likes of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic would like pre-departure testing to be sufficient to release air travellers from any quarantine requirements.

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