Heathrow is today offering passengers £80 pre-departure Covid tests to help get the struggling flight industry off the ground.
A trial started today for travellers to Hong Kong, which requires a negative test for entry, but it will soon also include those going to Italy.
The new facilities in Terminals 2 and 5 can produce results in 20 minutes, and there are hopes a wider roll-out could eventually eliminate the need to quarantine.
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The testing centre will initially only serve flights to Hong Kong, but there are plans to expand this
Passengers walking into the testing centre before boarding a flight to Hong Kong this morning
The new facilities in Terminals 2 and 5 can produce results in 20 minutes, and there are hopes a wider roll-out could eventually eliminate the need to quarantine
Passengers travelling to Hong Kong were the first to use the rapid testing centre today
The Heathrow centre uses Lamp tests, a rapid form of testing that does not require a laboratory.
Currently the Italian government requires another rapid option – antigen tests – to enter the country.
However, Lamp tests are considered to be better than antigen tests, so if the Italian government agrees to accept these instead the trial could begin for Italy as early as today.
Otherwise it will begin in two to three weeks when the Heathrow centre is also able to process antigen tests.
Italy and Hong Kong are among a growing number of places which require arrivals to present a negative test certificate either before take-off or soon after landing.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said yesterday that the government was also in talks with the United States over a trial of pre-departure tests between the two countries.
Heathrow already has a testing hall for inbound travellers.
Although many countries have adopted pre-take-off tests, Whitehall is putting more emphasis on establishing a ‘test-and-release’ model in which the quarantine time is halved with a single test seven days after arrival.
This has been rejected by some aviation leaders, including new BA chief Sean Doyle, who fear any quarantine will stifle the economy.
Passengers outside the rapid Covid testing centre inside the arrivals hall of Terminal 5
Speaking to the Airlines 2050 industry summit yesterday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said rapid daily tests could even lead to the end of quarantine altogether
A BBC reporter showing the inside of the new centre centre, where travellers sit in booths to be swabbed
Virgin Atlantic boss Shai Weiss said: ‘We urgently need a passenger testing regime in the UK to safely replace quarantine. As long as the 14-day quarantine remains, demand for travel will not return.’
Mr Shapps told yesterday’s conference that officials are exploring a variety of options to boost air travel.
He said: ‘We’re talking to the US homeland security and others. We’d like to get trials set up.
‘That could involve a series of tests that could involve quarantine before and after flights – or ultimately no quarantine at all if the technology is there for a rapid test. But that requires international cooperation.’
Mr Shapps added that the possibility of a reduced quarantine period was ‘in the hands of private sector provision’ making sure enough tests were available for all passengers arriving into the UK.
A task force headed by Mr Shapps and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, will report to Boris Johnson at the start of November in time for decisions to be taken before December 1 for a change to quarantine rules.
The new testing halls at Heathrow have been set up by aviation firms Collinson and Swissport and are backed by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific.
Although Heathrow has already set up a testing hall for inbound travellers, these will be the first to provide pre-departure tests.
Heathrow is offering passengers £80 pre-departure Covid tests to help get the struggling flight industry off the ground
New facilities in Terminals 2 and 5 will offer swab tests to travellers flying to countries that require evidence of a negative test – with results available in 20 minutes. Heathrow already has a testing hall for inbound travellers (pictured)
Whitehall is putting more emphasis on establishing a ‘test-and-release’ model in which the quarantine time is halved with a single test seven days after arrival
Warning that Britain is ‘on the brink of an economic emergency,’ Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye said: ‘Many other countries are already using testing to keep their borders safe while restarting trade and travel.
‘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.
‘Ultimately, we need a Common International Standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this.
‘We will work with them to make this happen as soon as possible, so that we protect livelihoods as well as lives.’
Aviation has been devastated by the pandemic, with passenger numbers collapsing by as much as 90 per cent across the UK.
The problem has been exacerbated by tough border rules imposed by countries to control the virus.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told yesterday’s conference that officials are exploring a variety of options to boost air travel
New facilities in Terminals 2 and 5 will offer swab tests to travellers flying to countries that require evidence of a negative test – with results available in 20 minutes. Heathrow already has a testing hall for inbound travellers