For £150, passengers arriving at London Heathrow will soon be able to take a Covid-19 test to avoid quarantining for two weeks in the UK. However, a government trial is needed first and, in the meantime, more countries are back on the ‘red’ list for travel. Jenny Southan reports
Developed by logistics firms Swissport and Collinson, a Covid testing centre for arrving passengers is ready to begin operations in London Heathrow Terminal 2, with a second facility planned for the end of August.
The T2 lab has 24 booths, each staffed by a nurse, where people will go for their PCR swab test. The samples will then be taken to a dedicated Collinson biotech lab near the airport. Heathrow says that more than 13,000 tests can be carried out each day and capabilities can be further scaled with demand.
If passengers test negative for Covid-19, then they will be able to return home or to a hotel where they will need to wait for a few days before doing a second test. Heathrow says that travellers who test negative to both tests would then be released early from quarantine.
For travellers coming from countries such as France, Spain and Croatia, which are on the government red list, this will be a welcome development. For the travel industry, border testing will be the only way to give people the confidence to book holidays, especially when the rules are changing so quickly and with so little notice.A recent survey by Collinson of 22,000 frequent flying Priority Pass members found that almost three in four (71 per cent) are ready to return to travel either immediately or within the next three to six months, but unpredictable factors such as quarantines represent their top concern about returning to air travel. (74 per cent identified this as a worry, and accordingly, half were willing to pay for a Covid-19 test to help ease travel restrictions.)
According to a statement from Heathrow, 30 countries (such as Iceland – read our review here) and half the world’s busiest airports are already utilising “test-on-arrival” as a safe and effective alternative to quarantine.
It also says that PCR testing at the border would have a positive economic impact for the UK, as overseas visitors spent £28.4 billion in the UK in 2019.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said in a statement: “Testing will not only avoid the ‘quarantine roulette’ that so many passengers faced in Spain and France, it will also open up flights to key trading partners such as the US, Canada and Singapore.
“The government’s own research shows that a double test has a high level of accuracy in screening for Covid. This facility is an oven-ready opportunity to see how Britain can safely reopen for business, as other countries are doing.”According to Heathrow, PCR border testing has been “extensively trialled internationally, in locations with very strong scientific oversight such as Germany, and found to be safe, and now rolled out in France, Iceland and Austria and at more than half the world’s busiest airports including Paris Charles de Gaulle, Tokyo Haneda and Dubai International”.
It added: “Jersey has implemented the same approach being proposed for Heathrow. Jersey is a strong case study for examining the efficacy of tests due to inbound travel having an outsized impact on the island.
“In July, 20,061 tests on inbound travellers were conducted at the border, representing 20 per cent of the resident population size, with 17 cases of Covid-19 being detected and quarantined.
“Consistent with the findings of all other countries that have trialled and implemented testing on arrival, the testing was found to be highly effective at detecting COVID at the border and preventing onward transmission in the community.”Writing in The Mail, John Holland-Kaye said: “For months, Heathrow has been calling for the government to introduce testing as an alternative to quarantine. A single test is not considered accurate enough, so initially at least a double test would be required.
“Heathrow is ready to support this provided the government sets clear guidelines for a second test and changes regulations to allow passengers who provide two negative tests to leave quarantine early.
“We have worked closely with aviation services company Collinson and logistics firm Swissport to ensure such a testing procedure can be in place. If the government is serious about protecting the economy, this is exactly what should be done.
“Had the government done so after the Spanish crisis, a plan could have been in place for those caught up in the French problems last weekend. It is not too late to save people returning from Greece, Croatia or Italy the inconvenience of 14 days at home.”
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