England’s new test program for travelers overwhelmed within hours

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The government’s new private coronavirus testing system, which allows travelers to reduce quarantine from 10 to five days, was in chaos hours after its launch on Tuesday.

Many of the 11 government-approved vendors admitted they were already out of testing, some websites crashed and others were not yet ready to receive reservations.

The “test and release” program for travelers was announced last month and has been hailed by the airline industry as a way to encourage travel by halving the time people have to self-isolate afterwards. their entry into England from abroad.

But government-approved providers struggled on the first day of the program when potential passengers attempted to access more information through the Department of Transportation’s website.

Two providers, SameDayDoctor and The Private GP Clinic, informed people they were unable to offer testing to returning travelers and were replaced by other companies on Tuesday morning.

“Unfortunately, we have been so overwhelmed with test and release requests that we can no longer respond to emails or take more bookings,” SameDayDoctor said.

A link to one provider, Oncologica, diverted people to another called Screen4, whose website crashed early in the morning – despite being up and running at 10 a.m. The website of another approved company, Medicspot, said the tests were not yet available to be booked.

The London General Practice, also on the list, said its website was “currently under maintenance”, although it was taking reservations by phone.

Halo Verify, another vendor, said on their website they were offering test kits for £ 89 before clarifying they were out of stock. Instead, the company accepted reservations by phone.

Rupert Channing, senior business advisor at test provider Chronomics, said that since the program went live last night, demand has been significantly higher than expectations set by the government.

“Even the most optimistic guide they’ve given us is way off,” he said. “By 10pm, we had over 3,500 pre-orders. This morning, it is at this level and higher.

He described the list of mostly small and unknown test providers as “surprising”. “It’s like a flotilla of small ships,” he said. ” Yes [the government] Had thought about it a bit more, they might have decided not to launch it directly during Christmas time when there is potential for a perfect storm.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary told the Financial Times he was not surprised by the problems with the testing system.

“Nothing the Johnson government does surprises me. They promised a world class testing and tracing system. All they delivered was world class incompetence, ”he said.

The government has said private sector healthcare companies approved for the test and release program are required to meet higher minimum standards than those recommended for general population testing, such as private sector workforce. .

The ministers plan to certify larger test providers who are likely to have significantly greater capacity, an aviation industry executive said.

But Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said the chaotic situation was likely to deter many from trying to get tested. “It’s a chaotic start for a system that has been reported as a travel recovery solution. It took weeks of planning, but it only took a few minutes to collapse, ”he said.

“This is not the way for governments to build consumer confidence and help them travel transparently,” he added.

The DfT declined to comment.

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