The long-awaited ‘Test to Release’ service, which offers the opportunity to cut post-travel quarantine to just five days, is already struggling to keep up with demand – with one business publicly appealing to be removed from the list due to an “overwhelming” volume of enquiries.
The Government’s list of preferred testing providers was published late last night, within hours of the scheme’s launch this morning. And, predictably, demand for the tests seems – in many cases – to have outstripped the capacity to supply.
This morning, Telegraph Travel contacted all companies listed on the Test to Release website to enquire about their testing availability. Of the 11 companies, just two currently offer live links to purchase Covid-19 tests: Prenetics and Screen 4.
The remainder ask clients to pre-register their interest or send an email to make a booking – and some are already warning that demand is high. In some instances websites are crashing, and of all the companies we telephoned (in additional to emailing), only two picked up the phone. (“Yes, we have been very busy this morning…”, one receptionist sighed.)
Two testing providers which were initially listed – Samedaydoctor and The Private GP Clinic – have since been removed from the list and replaced with alternative services.
“We have now had literally thousands of enquiries and cannot respond to them,” says Dr. Laurence Gerlis, Chief Executive Officer and Lead Clinician of Samedaydoctor Holdings, which issued a warning on its website this morning that it had been “overwhelmed” with bookings.
“The Government underestimated the demand. One would need the Excel Centre to handle this volume [of tests required].”
The Test to Release scheme offers the opportunity to reduce post-travel quarantine from ten days to as little as five, so long as a test is taken on or after the fifth day of self-isolation. The test must be taken privately, and provided through one of the Government’s recommended services.
However, the system “has not got off to a great start”, says Paul Charles, chief executive of the travel consultancy PC Agency. “Of the 11 providers listed on the Test to Release website, most cannot help you to leave quarantine early or even meet the demand for testing kits or appointments. Some provider websites are not even working.”
He added: “I don’t understand why the Government never learns from the mistakes it makes. It should be consulting with the travel and tourism sector on a daily basis to ensure it creates the right conditions for recovery.”
The problem stems from a flawed approval process, says Dr Gerlis: “[The Government] decided, without consultation, to make us providers jump through a lot of hoops to be on the list,” he explains. “We had to apply to be a laboratory (which we are not) with the UK Accreditation Service at a cost of £1,800 just for the application. We now have to go through the process of assessment as a laboratory.
“Many providers decided not to bother [with the process] – so only 11 were approved. [That is] simply not enough. We have requested to be removed from the list now.”
A spokesperson from Prenetics, one of the two providers which currently offers a live link to buy a test, told Telegraph Travel that it has “capacity to distribute tens of thousands of PT-PCR tests every day for travellers.”
The Telegraph has contacted all recommended testing suppliers for comment.
Test to Release: Which companies made the cut, and can you get a test?
All details correct as of 1pm, December 15, 2020.
£99, test taken at home. Axiom is currently asking clients to register interest by email. More details
No price advertised, test taken at home. Chronomics is currently only offering services to travellers returning to the UK after December 31. More details
£99 + VAT, test taken at home. DNA Workplaces is currently asking clients to pre-register on email. More details
£89, test taken at home. Tests currently ‘out of stock’ on website. More details
£149, test taken at home. Current website advice reads: Medicspot’s Test to Release service will be launching very soon. Register your interest and we’ll be in touch as soon as we’re ready to process your order. More details
A new addition to the list. Price not currently advertised, clients are advised to email directly to purchase tests. More details
Oncologica currently appears to only offer tests for businesses – not individuals – from £45. More details
£119, test taken at home. There is currently availability for tests, with a live link to buy online. More details
£120, test done in clinic (nationwide). There is currently availability for tests, with a live link to buy online. More details
New addition to the list. £99.99 for home test, £59.99 if flying into Bristol Airport. Payment portal ‘coming soon’; must register interest via the website. More details
The London General Practice
£295, test done in clinic (London). Online booking page currently ‘out of service’. More details