At one point, it seemed that travel was starting to make a comeback in Europe as borders opened. In recent weeks governments have begun to reimpose restrictions as COVID-19 cases grow across Europe. The travel industry is becoming increasingly desperate and is imploring governments to look at other methods in lieu of quarantine for preventing COVID-19 cased from being imported.
Recently several major US and UK airline CEOs wrote to the UK and US governments to ask them to look at testing as an alternative to quarantine arrangements and reopen the transatlantic routes. This week the Airports Council International World (ACI) also backed the calls against blanket quarantine. The ACI called for a “robust and consistent protocol” when testing travelers for Covid-19, which should be “implemented only when necessary and as an alternative to broad-brush requirements for quarantine.”
At London Heathrow Collinson and Swissport have today announced their facility for COVID-19 testing is ready for use. Heathrow Airport has also been pushing the UK government to trial testing as an alternative to 14 days quarantine from non “travel corridor” countries. The new testing facility is housed in Heathrow’s Terminal 2 and is specifically for arriving passengers to be tested for COVID-19. Currently, the facility can carry out more than 13,000 passenger tests per day, although this could be increased.
PCR Testing at the border has been extensively trialed internationally by 30 countries such as Germany, which found it safe. Jersey has also made a requirement for mandatory testing on entry and, as of yet, have not seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, believing it to be highly effective from low-risk countries. More than 50% of the busiest airports in the world now offer airport testing.
The proposed pilot will focus on a two-test model, which the UK government has indicated as their preferred option. The first test would be taken at the testing facility on arrival and then a second confirmatory test to follow a few days after the first. With Government approval, travelers who test negative to both tests would later be released early from quarantine between five to eight days versus the current 14 days.
Collinson’s recent survey of 22,000 frequent flying Priority Pass members found that half of travelers are willing to pay for a COVID-19 test to help ease travel restrictions. Inside the new testing area in Terminal 2, Collinson nurses will assist in taking a swab, which is then transported by Swissport staff to a specifically dedicated Collinson biotech lab near Heathrow. The tests will be carried using the same protocols as the NHS uses for home swab tests. The results would then be expected to be available within seven hours of the test.
Heathrow CEO, John Holland-Kaye, said: “Testing will not only avoid the “quarantine roulette” that so many passengers faced in Spain and France, but 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.”
With Government support, the pilot of the new testing procedure could be available as a private service to anyone with a flight landing in Heathrow Terminal 2, and within a few weeks for those arriving in Terminal 5. Collinson, Swissport, and Heathrow have been in discussions with various government departments to search for a testing model that will enable safe travel and reduce the impact of quarantine.
The tests proposed for the procedure are sensitive enough to detect COVID-19 particles even before a passenger has displayed any symptoms before they become infectious. As yet, the UK government has not approved the proposal.
Written by: Michele Robson
Originally published on: https://www-forbes-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.forbes.com/sites/michelerobson/2020/08/19/heathrow-airport-covid-19-arrivals-testing-ready-travel-industry-battles-quarantine/amp/