Heathrow Airport has set up the first testing facility for arrivals, putting pressure on the government to sign off a programme which could end blanket quarantine measures imposed on visitors from “red” countries.

The facility, in Terminal 2, has been set up by Collinson and Swissport. The facility enables arriving passengers to be tested for COVID-19 upon landing and know just hours later if they have tested positive. More than 13,000 passenger tests can be carried out each day using the existing facility, which can be further scaled with demand.

The centre is still awaiting government approval but Heathrow hopes that the facility will open up air travel to the UK by enabling people testing negative for COVID-19 to exit quarantine early.

The UK government is taking a tough approach to restricting travel with countries with higher infection rates. France, Netherlands and Malta were among those added to the quarantine list last week and there is speculation that other popular holiday destinations including Croatia, could soon been added.

Facility awaits government approval

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that a single test on arrival could pick up only 7 per cent of cases, although airport-based passenger testing on arrival is already available in 30 other countries. A statement by Heathrow said border testing programmes had been extensively trialled internationally, in locations including Germany, France, Iceland and Austria and at more than half the world’s busiest airports including Paris Charles de Gaulle, Tokyo Haneda and Dubai International.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, told Sky News it was still possible to test negative and still spread the virus but confirmed he was in ongoing talks with the airport about the project. “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 in to release the quarantine.”

Quarantine measures are “killing economy”

Heathrow has proposed a double testing system and remain in talks with the government along with Collinson and Swissport to progress adoption of airport-based testing. Passengers will be tested on the day of arrival and will be tested again five to eight days later. Passengers who receive two negative test results will then be able to exit the remainder of the two-week quarantine period.

Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said the lack of testing and mandatory quarantine requirements were having a disastrous affect on the UK economy. “The UK is stuck with a blanket quarantine that assumes every visitor has COVID, when they don’t. This is killing our economy, with more companies going bust every day and thousands more workers left jobless.”

Collinson nurses will be on hand to assist in taking a swab within the facility in Terminal 2 which will then be transported by Swissport staff to a specifically dedicated Collinson biotech lab near Heathrow. The tests will be transported using the same protocols as the NHS uses for home swab tests.

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