Earlier this week, Her Majesties Government updated its new “Test to Release” strategy, to reduce quarantine down from 14 days to 5 days
Currently, when entering the UK – two options exist:
- You are travelling from a country that is on the travel corridor list and do not need to self-isolate on arrival into the UK
- You are travelling from a country that is not on the travel corridor list, and thus will need to self-isolate for 14 on arrival into the UK
Well, it looks likes things are changing, with the government looking to cut the mandatory isolation by a week – if not more.
From 15 December 2020, passengers arriving into England from countries not featured on the government’s travel corridor list will have the option to take a test after 5 days of self-isolation, with a negative result releasing them from the need to isolate.
The scheme will allow people to travel, and return to the UK. If they were to opt-in, they can take a private COVID-19 test after 5 days. If this is negative, the self-isolation period can be deemed as “over”. You will not be able to use NHS Test and Trace testing with this scheme to validate that your COVID free.
Under the ‘Test to release for international travel’ strategy, passengers arriving into England by plane, ferry or train should book their test before they travel; must complete a passenger locator form; and will still need to self-isolate for 5 days before taking a test – rather than taking it at their port of arrival.
How does it work?
Passengers will be able to book a test from a provider on a GOV.UK list before arriving in England. If they choose to book a test, they will need to state this on their passenger locator form prior to arriving and then go straight into self-isolation at home as usual. If they choose to opt in after arrival, they will need to resubmit their passenger locator form.
They can then take a test on or after day 5 of the isolation period either at home or at a private provider’s testing site, and on receipt of a negative result, can immediately finish self-isolating and return to following domestic rules.
Note, that you cannot use NHS Test and Trace services or use NHS testing capacity.
Those choosing not to take a test when arriving from a non-exempt country must continue to follow the current self-isolation requirements (currently two weeks).
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said:
We have a plan in place to ensure that our route out of this pandemic is careful and balanced, allowing us to focus on what we can now do to bolster international travel while keeping the public safe.
Our new testing strategy will allow us to travel more freely, see loved ones and drive international business. By giving people the choice to test on day 5, we are also supporting the travel industry as it continues to rebuild out of the pandemic.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, said:
The aviation industry is vital to our economy – creating jobs and driving growth- which is why we have supported them throughout this crisis through the job retention scheme, loans and tax deferrals.
This new package of support for airports, alongside a new testing regime for international arrivals, will help the sector take off once again as we build back better from the pandemic.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock, said:
Ensuring that safe travel is possible has been a priority for the Global Travel Taskforce. This test on day 5 of the 14-day self-isolation period will identify positive coronavirus cases and allow those who test negative to return to work and see their loved ones while abiding by domestic coronavirus restrictions.
This will be done at the cost of the traveller to protect the capacity of NHS Test and Trace and ensure that any UK resident who has symptoms is able to get a test.
Commentary: Could other programmes work?
Several trials are going on at the moment that are trying to determine that air travel can be done safely, with different testing strategies. These include:
- Countries demanding PCR tests are completed before departure (such as Dubai, Hawaii)
- Pre-Departure testing (such as with BA between London and Hong Kong, United between Newark and London) using a NAAT/“rapid” nasal swab tests
- OneWorld’s test programme between the US and UK with British Airways and American Airlines, with three tests at pre-departure, on arrival at London and a few days after.
- Austrian Airlines programme between Vienna and Hamburg (operating in both directions) with an AntiGen test.
- Travel bubbles where COVID Rates are low (such as the suspended Hong Kong – Singapore travel bubble).
A lot of these are starting up, or gathering important research data on evaluating how the programmes work, the costs to spin up those services and what the medical validity of these tests are.
And data like that has to be viewed with lots of viewpoints – cost, political and scientific to see if these programmes have validity and have the chance to regain the lost traffic.
A Costly Start if you want to cut isolation time
Whilst the UK Government is seemingly wanting to start to kick-start travel again by dangling the possibility of reduced time in isolation on arrival into the UK – it’s a welcome start.
However, there are more than a few imperfections to put it nicely – and it comes down to cost.
The cost of testing will have to be accounted for (for each trip). For a single traveller, this could be between £99 and £150 (depending on the laboratory used). That’s no insignificant chunk of change (For example, that’s nearly a 1/3 extra on top of a London – Dubai ticket).
For those with families – those costs spiral as each person will need to be tested. For a family of four, that could be as much as £600 extra. Add more members who are travelling with you and the costs will mount up.
Time is Money… or is Money is Time?
The current plan boils down to how you value time vs your ability to function “normally” in the new tiers and restrictions that have recently been announced. If you’re desperately needed to be out in the world five to seven days after landing, £150 could be a bargain to get up to 9 days back.
And ultimately – the uptake of this will be the thing to watch. Will people pay to get their relative “freedom” back quicker?
Editors note: Sorry this got delayed. Been a long week in the real world…
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