Test to Release, a new system meant to cut quarantine times for travellers arriving in England, has been beset with problems on its first day.
Travellers are allowed to end self-isolation early if they pay for a coronavirus test and get a negative result five days after arriving.
The government picked 11 firms to carry out the private tests.
But some of the largest Covid test providers were not included and many on the list have hit problems.
Airlines UK, the trade body for airlines, admitted there had been “teething problems”, but said these would be resolved. “Today is only the start – the end goal is the removal of quarantine altogether – but it’s a positive beginning to what we hope will be the recovery of our sector,” the group said.
When the scheme launched on Tuesday morning, some test providers were overwhelmed with the sheer volume of demand from the public. One supplier has pulled out completely.
SameDayDoctor asked to be withdrawn from the programme after being inundated with requests for tests.
It posted a message on its website stating: “Unfortunately we have been so overwhelmed with requests for Test to Release that we cannot answer any more emails nor take any more bookings.”
Another approved provider, Axiom, said it couldn’t take bookings but an update would be available “soon”, while another, Medicspot, told visitors to its website to register their interest.
Dr Laurence Gerlis, chief executive of SameDayDoctor, said he was initially delighted to have made the approved list.
“Getting on that list was the hardest thing I have ever done,” he said. “The paperwork was so thorough it took a full week. I was so proud to have been accredited and to be able to help. We went live at 7pm on Monday but were so overwhelmed it was clear we would struggle.
“Four hours later I emailed the government and asked to be taken off the list. We were inundated.
“I actually ended up in tears. We had to let so many people down. People had been relying on getting the test in order to come out of quarantine for all sorts of reasons. One of the most upsetting things I heard was a patient saying they needed the test because they knew this Christmas visit would be the last one they would be able to spend with their mother.”
Collinson, which has had testing set up at Heathrow and Manchester Airport for months, was not put on the list until later on Tuesday. The firm had initially told the BBC it was “surprised and disappointed” not be on the government’s list of private providers.
The Department for Transport later confirmed that Collinson was now on the list. The company’s joint chief executive David Evans said Test to Release “is a significant positive step forward that will help the aviation sector open up travel safely”.
People arriving in the UK from destinations on the government’s travel corridors list are exempt from the 10-day self isolation requirement.
The Test to Release programme was designed to benefit people arriving from other locations.
Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, told the PA news agency: “It’s a chaotic start for a system that was flagged as a solution to recovery in the travel sector, but it’s been weeks in planning and has taken minutes to fall apart.
“I think most people just won’t pay for a test because they can’t guarantee they’re going to get the results quickly, so they may as well just opt to spend two or three more days in quarantine and save the money.”
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: “It defies belief that the Government’s long-awaited aviation Test To Release scheme has, within hours, proved to be unworkable.”
“The return of international business travel and tourism is critical to London and the UK’s economic recovery. This requires competent and proven testing companies.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told the Press Association: “We have made this option available to international travellers and we are working to approve more test providers.”
Published at Tue, 15 Dec 2020 19:47:36 +0000