‘Test to Release’ scheme: A step in the right direction or a mask to the reality?

On Tuesday 24 November, the UK Government announced the introduction of the ‘Test to Release’ scheme which aims to help provide greater flexibility for international arrivals. This means that from December 15th, anyone arriving in England who needs to self-isolate will now be able to pay for a test and take the test 5 full days after they left the country, territory or region not on the travel corridors list. A negative test result will enable them to cease self-isolating. While this does seem like a step in the right direction, could it just be to cover up reality of travel restrictions? 

For the past 25 weeks, anyone arriving in the UK from a country that is not on the travel corridor list must quarantine for 14-days. With the new quarantine strategy, this isolation period could be slashed, provided that travellers pay for the test themselves from a government-approved private provider and test negative. The scheme will be open to arrivals by all modes of transport. The government is keeping the option open for travellers to quarantine for two weeks if they choose to.  

With the vast majority of countries off the travel corridor list, the Test to Release scheme does appear to be a step in the right direction. However, the benefits are in fact rather limited. 

The Report of the Global Travel Taskforce outlines the full details of Test to Release and highlight that the scheme is primarily to benefit inbound business travel, not leisure travel. In fact, the report barely refers to leisure travel at all. This is a key point news coverage is failing to report on – yet another announcement full of PR and spin.  

British consumers reading news articles about the new scheme would be forgiven for believing that they can finally get to go on holiday again without the need to quarantine for so long. Likewise for inbound tourists. However, the Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to many places. Travellers are also at risk of invalidating their travel insurance by travelling to destinations not on the travel corridor list for leisure.  

An Oliver Wyman survey of attitudes to travel across nine countries including the UK and many of its core overseas market highlights that even when the COVID-19 outbreak ends, and travel restrictions are lifted, business travellers are unlikely to travel more. Outlook for leisure travel, on the other hand, has improved. Thanks to Zoom and other video conferencing platforms, people realise that they no longer need to travel long distance for a short business trip. 

If the government truly understands the value of leisure tourism, surely, it’d make more of a conscious effort to support inbound leisure tourism? 

All negativity aside, this is still a step in the right direction and is certainly positive news for airlines who will hopefully begin to see an increase in bookings, even if it is only for business travel. Travel is travel and, regardless of its purpose, it’s contributing to industry recovery.  

Do you think this is a step on the right direction or is it just to mask the reality of travel restrictions? 

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