Airport 'test and release' system hits teething problems
The newly initiated Test to Release programme for screening air travel passengers has experienced setbacks in its first week of operation. As part of the scheme announced in October, passengers may cut their self-isolation period short if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result five days after arriving in the UK from abroad. Tests are sold by private companies and COVID-negative tests allow passengers to reduce their isolation from ten days to five (likely to be eight due to processing time). Government had set out specific minimum requirements for the provision of COVID-19 tests before the scheme began.
These requirements included specific capacities to provide evidence of a person’s tests result and each company must have a registered medical practitioner on their staff. An effective system of governance must be in place also. This is in regards to staff training, accountability, information management systems and process management. In total, eleven test providers were selected by Government to provide testing services as part of Test to Release. However, in its initial phase, the programme has seen many providers unable to meet demand for tests.
The ‘SameDayDoctor’ brand asked to be withdrawn from the programme after being inundated with requests for tests. It reached a limit of comment queries it was able to respond to and test processing capacity. The company’s MD said that he had received up to 1,000 emails per day after the programme began, with demand outstripping the brand’s laboratory capacity. Some other providers are asking passengers to register for a future test to be sent to them and are not meeting the demand either. Halo Verify, said test kits were out of stock and some other providers’ websites appeared to have crashed on Tuesday. Up to 200 flights a day are forecast in December at the airport – 30% of pre-COVID levels but far more than have operated in recent months. The Department for Transport was reported to be fast-tracking the approval of testing centres within airports on Tuesday. The Department has confirmed that the list of approved test providers is being constantly updated, with larger companies being added to help cope with demand.