The UK’s Heathrow Airport, one of the world’s busiest hub airports, on Wednesday unveiled a new coronavirus testing facility which it hopes will help cut down the compulsory 14-day quarantine period currently required for travellers into the UK from most countries.
Under the new plans, passengers arriving into Heathrow in south-west London will be able to book coronavirus swab tests and have results sent to them within seven hours. Travellers can do a second test at home a few days later and then leave quarantine early if they pass both checks.
“We are working with Heathrow and other airports on this project”, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told ‘Sky News’.
“The challenge is, because the virus can incubate inside your body without coming forward and without therefore a test being positive even if you’ve got it, the challenge is how to do that testing in a way that we can have confidence enough to release the quarantine”, he said.
“It is absolutely a project that we are working with Heathrow on. I clearly understand the impact of quarantine on so many people’s lives. It is not something anybody would want to do. So I hope that this project can bear fruit,” he added.
Similar double-testing schemes are being used in other countries, including Germany and Iceland, but the proposal needs government approval before it can begin in the UK.
The tests, which are identical to the swabs used by the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), would be booked online and cost 150 pounds. It is hoped this could fall to 50 pounds a passenger with the help of a state subsidy. Those testing negative could leave quarantine five to eight days after landing, as opposed to 14 days.
Heathrow said it has been working with aviation services company Collinson and logistics firm Swissport on a testing facility which is now “ready for use”.
More than 13,000 passenger tests can be carried out each day, which can be further scaled with demand.
The pilot of the new testing procedure could be available as a private service to anyone with a flight landing at Heathrow Terminal 2, and within a few weeks for those arriving at Terminal 5, the airport said.
“A lot of countries that are ‘red-listed’ have millions of people who don’t have the disease but can’t travel. That’s holding back economic recovery,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.
The news of the new testing facility comes amid reports that UK Cabinet ministers will be meeting soon to discuss plans to replace blanket quarantines with the help of COVID-19 testing for travellers.
Britain currently operates a system of safe coronavirus travel corridors list of countries, with a large number of regions still considered high risk to allow quarantine-free travel.