A new pre-departure rapid testing facilities has been launched at Heathrow.
The testing facilities, a UK first, are described by officials at the airport as a critical step in the recovery of the aviation sector, restoring traveller confidence and re-opening routes from the UK to the rest of the world.
They will be run by Collinson and Swissport.
The facilities, located in Terminals 2 and 5, will initially offer passengers travelling to Hong Kong and Italy the option to fulfil those countries’ pre-departure testing requirements at the airport before they fly.
These countries currently require passengers to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test prior to departure, but allow for testing technologies that can deliver fast results.
These tests, including Lamp and Antigen tests, can easily be administered pre-flight at the airport.
These tests differ from RT-PCR, which a growing number of countries and territories around the world, including Cyprus, Greece, Bahamas, and Bermuda now require to be shown at check-in.
Unlike RT-PCR tests, Lamp and Antigen tests can be processed quickly and without being sent to a laboratory.
However, they are viewed as less accurate than the more sensitive RT-PCR option.
Heathrow chief executive, 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.
“We will work with them to make this happen as soon as possible, so that we protect livelihoods as well as lives.”
Despite optimism at Heathrow, the government appears to be moving in a different direction.
The newly established global travel taskforce is currently examining how travellers can be tested several days after arrival in the UK.
If they test positive, the need to quarantine would be reduced.
Developments in international testing are fast-moving and the Heathrow-based rapid testing sites have the potential to facilitate a wide range of testing methods either pre-departure or on arrival.
The testing facilities will initially be open for 4 weeks, monitoring passenger and airline demand.
The private test costs £80 and aims to provide departing passengers with their results in around 60 minutes.
Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airlines all fly routes that now require pre-departure tests, and so it is hoped this facility will ensure a smooth and safe pre-flight experience for these passengers.
British Airways chief executive, Sean Doyle, who yesterday called for widespread testing, said: “The UK’s economic recovery depends on the swift re-opening of the skies and we need a worldwide agreement that fast, reliable pre-departure testing is the safest and quickest way to get people flying again.
“The latest data from IATA suggests the risk of contracting Covid-19 on aircraft is extremely low.
“It’s vital we work together as an industry to explore every option to get travel moving.”