The Test to Release scheme for travellers entering England went live on Tuesday allowing travellers from countries not on the travel corridor list to halve the mandatory quarantine period if they get a negative test result for the CCP virus after five days.
“The introduction of this day 5 Test to Release scheme is a helpful step in the right direction. It means less time in quarantine,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said in a media release on Tuesday.
“But only in return for a negative COVID test,” he said.
The scheme has reportedly got off to a bumpy start, with some test providers according to the BBC, withdrawing from the government’s list of private companies offering tests because they were overwhelmed with requests for bookings.
One provider, Collinson, is not accepting bookings until Thursday and another, Halo Verify, has posted a message on its website saying that “Due to increased demand for Test to Release, stock levels are limited.”
“Please check back here later for when we renew stock levels,” the message said.
Test Providers Not Meeting Demand
Travel consultancy, The PC Agency’s CEO, Paul Charles, has criticised the Test to Release scheme writing on Twitter that most of the test providers “cannot yet help you to leave quarantine early or meet the demand.”
Budget Airline, Ryanair’s Chief Executive Michael O’Leary meanwhile said the scheme was “more of the mismanagement of COVID by the Johnson government,” because it tests travellers after arrival into the country rather than before travelling.
He also criticised Shapps for not listening to the airline industry.
“Grant Shapps likes to complicate things because he doesn’t talk sufficiently to the industry and doesn’t take on board our views,” he told Sky News.
“If people are willing to get their tests within the 72 hours prior to their departure or prior to arriving in the UK, it’s a much simpler, much easier way of ensuring that those people who fly in, particularly on short-haul flights are COVID free,” he said.
He said this would be preferable to allowing them into the country and the London underground and transport systems before they get a test five days later.
O’Leary’s remarks echoed back to those of Tim Alderslade, Chief Executive of Airlines UK, the industry association representing UK-registered carriers.
Test ‘Does Not Get Rid of Quarantine’
When the scheme was first announced at the end of November, he said “a test at day 5 does not get rid of quarantine.”
“And that’s why we look forward to working with Government to move towards a pre-departure or domestic testing regime that can remove safely the need for self-isolation altogether, as quickly as possible,” he said.
Richard Burge Chief Executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry meanwhile said in a statement that “It defies belief that the Government’s long-awaited aviation Test To Release scheme has, within hours, proved to be unworkable.”
“The companies already used by London’s airports are not on the list of approved providers,” he said.
“But we now hear reports of the Government’s approved testers are unable to provide tests, or have no websites, and or are unable to take bookings for a test,” he added.
‘Privately Provided Scheme’
Nevertheless, the government said in a statement emailed to The Epoch Times that the scheme was privately provided, that the government was “merely offering the framework and standards for delivery” and that it had been clear that a surge in demand for tests was expected.
“We have been working closely with the private sector to deliver Test to Release, which is a step in the right direction for passengers and industry,” a spokesperson said.
“We have set high standards for any providers involved to ensure that we do not import COVID-19 into the UK at such a critical time,” they said.
“The list of approved providers is being constantly updated, with several larger businesses already added to help meet demand,” they added.
Since its announcement on Nov. 24 the quarantine time for travellers to the UK has been shortened. It was cut from 14 days to 10 days in Wales on Dec. 10 and in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland on Dec 14. Test and Release, however, is only an option in England, and travellers to the other three UK nations are required to abide by their destination country’s rules.
Over 14,000 tests, the government said, were sold on the first day of the Test to Release scheme launch.