Heathrow Airport in London, one of the world’s largest aviation hubs, on Tuesday launched new pre-departure rapid COVID-19 testing facilities for travellers flying out of the UK.
The private test costs 80 pounds and aims to provide departing passengers with their results in around 60 minutes.
The airport said its new test-on-departure process is aimed at helping passengers leaving the UK to meet requirements of governments worldwide alongside reassuring travellers that everyone who has boarded their plane will have only been allowed to do so by showing a negative test result.
"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," said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye.
"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," he said.
The rapid saliva test facilities, located in Terminals 2 and 5 of Heathrow, will initially offer passengers travelling to Hong Kong the option to fulfil pre-departure testing requirements at the airport before they fly. It is one of the countries that currently requires passengers to provide evidence of a negative Covid test prior to departure. These tests, including “LAMP and Antigen tests”, can easily be administered pre-flight at the airport, the airport said.
Cathay Pacific, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airlines are among the airlines that fly routes that require pre-departure tests and their passengers will be asked to ensure they book a test ahead of time to be given a check-in time estimate.
"The UK’s economic recovery depends on the swift re-opening of the UK''s skies and we need a worldwide agreement that fast, reliable pre-departure testing is the safest and quickest way to get people flying again," said British Airways’ Chief Executive Sean Doyle, who added that latest data suggests the risk of contracting Covid-19 on an aircraft is “extremely low”.
"The testing facilities established at Heathrow Airport by Collinson and Swissport are an excellent demonstration of the industry working together to offer rapid, on site, pre-departure customer testing that allows passengers to fly safely and does not compete for, nor divert, vital gold standard NHS resources,” said Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss.
The new pre-departure facilities will process a throat and nose swab, known as a loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) test. It differs from a PCR test, which is used more widely, because it can be processed quickly without being sent to a laboratory.
The airport said it hopes to add other tests, including Antigen, as global governments accept wider variety of testing methods as an alternative to travel restrictions and quarantines.
The tests will be carried out by Collinson nurses in a dedicated facility landside at the airport.
During the pre-booked appointment, a swab will be taken for testing, which is processed immediately using a new LAMP-based method developed by Oxford University and processed onsite at the airport by staff from one of Collinson’s biotech partners, Prenetics.
The new testing facilities will initially be open for four weeks, during which passenger and airline demand will be monitored in order to aid the aviation sector’s recovery and re-open routes from the UK to the rest of the world.
The pre-departure test system follows the launch of Collinson and Swissport’s existing “Test-on-Arrival” facility at Heathrow Airport, which is yet to gain UK government approval for use.
Now that Heathrow has facilities that allow for passengers to be tested either on arrival or prior to departure, the country’s aviation industry is urging the government’s new “Global Travel Taskforce” to launch a testing regime that provides a safe alternative to the existing 14-day quarantine.
"We launched ‘Test-on-Arrival’ to help get the travel ecosystem moving again and are now launching pre-departure testing to help support passengers departing the UK too,” said David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson.
"Government restrictions around the world will continue to fluctuate, but we, with our medical services and biotech partner network, have the capability to flex our offering to bespoke country needs, ensuring that, whatever the restriction, we can provide a way to keep travel moving, safely, without negatively impacting UK public testing capacity,” he said.