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Heathrow ready to 'test on arrival' and cut quarantine

Britain is looking into using coronavirus testing to shorten quarantine times (photo courtesy Unsplash/Tomek Baginski).

London’s Heathrow airport is awaiting government approval to begin testing arrivals for covid-19.

Collinson, owner of airport lounge provider Priority Pass, and ground cargo handling firm Swissport, have partnered to propose a private, voluntary ‘test on arrival’ scheme.

A testing facility is now ready for use at Terminal 2, with a second, similar facility, expected to be completed at Terminal 5 by the end of the month.

The facility means arrivals can be tested on landing with test results promised “within hours”. More than 13,000 passenger tests can be carried out daily, with the option to scale to meet any increase in demand.

Travellers into the UK from ‘red list’ countries who test negative could see their 14-day quarantine time substantially reduced.

Heathrow would be the first airport to trial the service but now needs the UK government to agree to quarantine exemption for participants.

“This facility is an oven-ready opportunity to see how Britain can safely reopen for business, as other countries are doing,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive officer, Heathrow.

PCR testing at the border has now been rolled out in France, Iceland and Austria and in major international airports including Dubai, Tokyo Haneda and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

The proposed pilot involves two tests, the first taken on landing at the testing facility, and the second, confirmatory test, taken by the NHS five to eight days later. Travellers who test negative to both tests would be released early from quarantine. It’s believed the airport tests will cost about GBP150.

In July, the Channel Island of Jersey rolled out a similar approach to that which is being proposed for Heathrow. More than 20,000 tests on inbound travellers were conducted, with 17 covid-19 cases being detected and quarantined.

Inside the testing area, Collinson nurses would assist with taking a swab which would then transported to a dedicated laboratory near Heathrow.

“The tests proposed are the ‘gold standard’ PCR tests - sensitive enough to detect covid-19 particles even before a passenger has displayed any symptoms, and before they come infectious,” said David Evans, joint chief executive officer at Collinson.

“Testing would not only avoid the ‘quarantine roulette’ that so many passengers face, it will also open up flights to key trading partners such as the US, Canada and Singapore. The (UK) government’s own research shows that a double test has a high level of accuracy in screening for COVID,” said Holland-Kaye.

However, hopes were dampened following a radio interview with UK transport minister Grant Shapps on August 21. "It's not quite as simple as the way it's been presented," Shapps told BBC radio. "But we do review these things constantly... It's just that I don't want to sort of offer false hope."

According to Reuters, airlines and airports were this week set to ask a United Nations-led task force to recommend countries accept a negative covid-19 test within 48 hours of travel as an alternative to quarantine.

A proposal from the Airports Council International and the International Air Transport Association claims that a test prior to departure could reduce the risk of passengers from high-risk countries importing covid-19 by up to 90%.


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