Test to release is ‘not really going to help holidaymakers’

The launch of ‘test to release’ in England on Tuesday was dismissed as “shambolic” as some test providers were immediately removed from a government-approved list and others were unable to perform tests.

However, the reduction of quarantine to 10 days from Monday “diminished the benefit” of the scheme, according to industry sources.

The government published a list of 11 approved Covid-test providers on Monday evening. Two were removed by Tuesday morning and two others added. A 12th provider, Collinson which provides testing at Heathrow, was added late on Tuesday.

Advertised prices start from £89 plus VAT and rise to £150, but £120 is most common. Some providers offer test facilities on site, others rely on couriers or the post. But none promise a result in less than 24 hours, a consequence of the requirement that tests have a minimum sensitivity of 97%.

Passengers wishing to pay for a test are required to book and pay before flying to the UK, adding details of the booking to their passenger locator form submitted on arrival. A negative test after five days’ self-isolation allows an early release from quarantine – most likely after seven days.

An aviation industry source said: “Day one has not inspired confidence. It’s fairly shambolic.”

A senior airline source told Travel Weekly: “It’s confusing with England, Wales, Scotland not aligned, but the 10-day quarantine is welcome and that is consistent across the UK. If anything, the 10-day quarantine diminishes the return for consumers. The benefit has become marginal.”

The source added: “We hadn’t even got to the point where we established the demand [for test to release].”

Tui UK commercial director Richard Sofer said the scheme “is not really going to help holidaymakers”.

He told a Travel Weekly Insight Report launch event: “A testing regime isn’t going to unlock a great deal. FCDO advice means people can’t travel to destinations anyway. Unless there is a change in the advice, test to release won’t change a great deal.”

However, Sofer revealed: “We’ve been working closely with test and airport partners. That is where a lot of the [testing] service provision can be.”

Alan Bowen, legal advisor to the Association of Atol Companies, noted the scheme may only appeal to high-value customers, saying: “A family of four is expected to pay £400 minimum for tests and to provide details on arrival, so you can’t just say you’re going to do it.”

Barrhead Travel president Jacqueline Dobson said: “Testing needs to be more affordable [and] the devolved administrations must get in line. The fragmented approach is damaging.”

She added: “I’m not sure people will want to pay for a test on return.”

Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, said: “Most large carriers have commercial arrangements with testing providers, so [booking a test] should be fairly seamless, much like hiring a car.”

He insisted: “The Global Travel Taskforce put us ahead of most countries in terms of test and release. It’s what the industry called for.” But he added: “As quickly as possible in the new year, we need a system whereby we remove quarantine.”

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