London Heathrow Airport has begun providing rapid COVID-19 tests for departing passengers, with results provided within an hour, as pressure mounts to open up international travel.
A new facility has been purpose-built in two of the iconic British airport’s terminals, to provide rapid COVID-19 testing for passengers travelling to destinations that require a negative pre-departure test result, including Hong Kong and Italy.
The facility is to be run by two private companies, Collinson and Swissport, and tests will cost passengers £80.
Airlines such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific are among the first to offer these tests to passengers flying from Terminals 2 and 5.
“Many other countries are already using testing to keep their borders safe while restarting trade and travel,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of London Heathrow.
“These facilities will make it easier for passengers going to those countries to get a test and have the potential to provide a service for arriving passengers.”
Meanwhile, UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has announced 1 December as the target date to establish rapid post-arrival COVID-19 testing, which could see quarantine restrictions halved for overseas arrivals into the UK.
The new system, referred to as the “test and release” system could shorten the current 14-day quarantine period down to seven days for overseas arrivals flying in from countries with high COVID-19 infection rates.
It would see overseas arrivals tested for COVID-19 seven days after arrival, during which period they would be self-isolating. Should the test be negative, they would then be free to leave self-isolation.
“My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed [to] a regime based on a single test provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger after a period of self-isolation,” Secretary Shapps said on Monday.
“Public Health England will set the quality for the test itself and then it will be up to the private sector to provide a test up to that quality,” he added, noting that the testing capacity of the NHS would not be affected by the new testing regime.
It is still yet to be advised how this testing regime would work, and whether or not travellers would need to transport themselves back to the airport for the test on their seventh day in Britain.
It is unclear whether arrivals would receive a testing kit in the airport to administer at home themselves or have to return to the airport to be tested under the government’s plans.
It comes following extensive calls from the travel and airline industries to introduce pre-departure COVID-19 testing in lieu of 14-day quarantine requirements, in order to reinvigorate demand for international travel.
However, the UK government has been reluctant to introduce such a policy, due to the potential of early or asymptomatic infections being missed by a single pre-departure test.
British Airways’ new chief executive Sean Doyle said, “There is a risk that as an industry we will not see beyond this crisis if we do not first address the issue of how we get people flying again.”
He warned that the current proposed “test and release” program will not be enough to bring tourists back to Britain.
“Even if the quarantine period is reduced to seven days, people won’t travel here and the UK will get left behind,” he said.