The first arrivals to England who can take advantage of the new “test-to-release” scheme to cut quarantine times have already touched down.
But there is still no clarity over how travellers can organise the necessary tests – and the government’s own online explanation of the scheme provides conflicting advice on how soon the procedure can be carried out.
The so-called “quarantine short-circuit” is the long-awaited alternative to 14 days of self-isolation. It allows arriving travellers to pay to take a private Covid test five days after leaving a country on England’s quarantine list.
The scheme begins on 15 December. Anyone who arrives before then can avail of the option by booking a test for that date, or five days after leaving a quarantine country – whichever is the latest.
The government has concluded: “The protective effect of testing to release international arrivals after five days of self-isolation is only marginally less effective than 14 days of self-isolation, assuming full compliance under both scenarios.
“Self-isolation is a significant restriction on personal liberty and this scheme will allow for that restriction to be relaxed in a safe manner.”
Yet the official list of approved test centres has not yet been released.
The government says: “A list of private test providers will be published on gov.uk soon.” It cautions: “You may be fined if you use a negative NHS test result to end your self-isolation period early.
“You can only end your self-isolation if you have a negative test that you paid for under the test-to-release scheme.”
There is confusion over when exactly the test can be taken.