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Virgin rolls out pre-flight testing on Asia flights

Virgin Atlantic will be testing its crew before they depart from Heathrow airport.

Virgin Atlantic has introduced pre-flight testing for cabin crew and pilots on its flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The carrier is the first UK-based airline to introduce covid testing for staff and it plans to extend the trial to Barbados and other destinations this month. It will eventually roll-out the programme to test every operating crew at least once per month.

The rapid Point of Care Covid-19 RT LAMP test is being carried out by Virgin in partnership with GeneMe UK, the official distributor of the FRANKD test. This mouth swab-based, nucleic acid test is compliant with World Health Organisation guidelines and is 97% effective at detecting covid. It has been integrated with digital platform Yoti for a paperless and lab-free diagnosis. A swab is taken on-site and results processed and delivered to the Yoti app within 30 minutes.

Virgin is now calling for the introduction of a wider, coordinated passenger testing regime.

“We need urgent action from UK and US governments to introduce pre-departure testing, to remove the need for quarantine and to minimise travel restrictions, while protecting public health,” said Corneel Koster, chief customer and operating officer at Virgin Atlantic.

Earlier this month, Cathay Pacific crew on a flight from Hong Kong to Singapore trialled a new, 15-minute rapid test by Hong Kong-based company Prenetics.

“Rapid and accurate testing at a facility at the airport will be critical for global travel to resume,” said Danny Yeung, co-founder and chief executive officer of Prenetics.

Several regions around the world now require a negative covid test certificate before boarding, which has left passengers scrambling to fullfill stringent timing and documentation requirements, often in countries they are not familiar with.

Hong Kong for example requires incoming arrivals from the US, the UK and India to carry a pre-flight test, which must be carried out no more than 72 hours before flying; stipulations include the lab must be ISO151189 accredited.

Individual tests from private clinics can cost up to US$3,000, with labs adding yet more fees for faster delivery. As more and more countries introduce such requirements, clinics are reportedly becoming overwhelmed. It’s believed that some passengers are arriving in Hong Kong with fake certificates.

Virgin is the first UK airline to introduce rapid testing for crew. It says that by introducing such a test, it is ensuring that it is not competing for the free-of-charge National Health Service (NHS) lab-based testing. The NHS test is not available for travellers and can only be accessed by UK residents with covid symptoms.

Virgin has introduced a number of health and safety protocols, including ramped up cleaning measures, disinfecting aircraft before each flight, using hospital-grade cleaning products, electrostatic spraying of cabins before each flight and High Efficiency Particulate Air filters which completely refresh cabin air every two to three minutes. Health packs containing medical grade face masks, hand sanitiser and surface wipes are given to all passengers. The airline also offers complimentary covid-19 global insurance cover in partnership with Allianz Assistance.


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