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Holiday Covid test shambles on day one

Written by: Emma Lunn
At least three Test to Release providers on the government-approved list are not yet carrying out tests, while another clinic has dropped out of the scheme.

The government only published a list of private companies approved to carry out the Test to Release tests a few hours before the scheme took effect today.

Of the 12 providers on the list, one has dropped out, two are not currently taking orders, one is only taking bookings from New Year’s Eve, and the website of another is down.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced the ‘Test to Release’ plan last month. It applies to people arriving in England by plane, ferry or train from countries not on the government’s travel corridor list.

Under the scheme, travellers can pay for a coronavirus test five days after arriving in the UK and be released from quarantine requirements if the test is negative. The scheme is voluntary and applies to those arriving in England only.

There are currently 11 test providers on the government-approved list.

But Axium’s website said the tests were “not available yet” while Medicspot’s website said its service was “launching very soon”. The London General Practice website was down for maintenance, while Chronomics was taking bookings for arrivals from 31 December.

According to a report on the website, SameDayDoctor asked to be removed from the list after being deluged with emails.

Of the providers up and running, prices for a coronavirus test range from £59.99 to £120.

The cheapest test at £59.99 is from Synlab, but this price is only available to people arriving at Bristol Airport – arrivals at other ports pay £99.99 with the same laboratory.

Chronomics and Screen 4 are the most expensive providers, both charging £120.

Under the scheme you can choose to pay for a private Covid-19 test when arriving in the UK. The earliest you can take the test is five full days after you left a place not on the travel corridor list. If the result is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

But in most cases test results take 24 to 48 hours after arriving in the laboratory to come back, sometimes longer, raising questions about whether it’s worth it.

Screen 4, which charges £120 per test, set out the timeline for the tests on its website. It said travellers could attend a clinic for a test on day five, with the results available on day seven or day eight. So a negative test would only see quarantine reduced by two days from the normal 10 days.

Lisa McAuley, managing director of Gold Medal Travel & Travel 2, Tweeted: “Becoming ever more difficult to believe the Govt ‘Test to Release’ plan wasn’t just cobbled together in a last minute panic…Providers overwhelmed ask to be removed from the scheme before it’s started doesn’t bode well. Maybe time to ‘fail fast’ & find a pragmatic solution.”

Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “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. 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.

“The return of international business travel and tourism are critical to London and the UK’s economic recovery. This requires competent and proven testing companies. The government must urgently remove its selected providers who have fallen at the first fence and add those that can and already are providing testing services at our airports. This is another example of government doing things to business rather than with business. We need fewer edicts from Whitehall and more genuine collaboration with the front line.”

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