Heathrow boss urges government to allow coronavirus testing on arrival as possible exemption to quarantine

Jul 29, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information.

London Heathrow Airport‘s boss is pushing the government to allow a coronavirus test on arrival for passengers in lieu of a 14-day quarantine. On Wednesday, Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said that the government should change its policy in order to avoid losing the game of global “quarantine roulette”.

Earlier this month, travel firms Collinson and Swissport said they were poised to begin offering coronavirus testing for some arriving passengers. A negative test would, in theory, allow a passenger to bypass the U.K.’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for those who wouldn’t otherwise be exempt. However, the move was subject to government approval.

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“The U.K. needs a passenger testing regime and fast”, Holland-Kaye said. “Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette”.

However, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Wednesday that testing at airports wasn’t a “silver bullet”, as the virus can develop over time.

The pressure from Holland-Kaye to institute an alternative for arriving passengers comes days after the government changed its stance on arrivals from Spain, with immediate effect. While Spain was originally on both the U.K.’s lists of countries that didn’t have to quarantine on entry to England and the list of countries that the FCO deemed it was safe to travel to, on Saturday, the government reversed course with immediate effect.

Additionally, on Wednesday, Heathrow released its results, showing that travel fell by 96% compared to a year ago. Heathrow’s results showed revenue of £119 million, down 85% compared to last year.

“Today’s results should serve as a clarion call for the government — the U.K. needs a passenger testing regime and fast”, Holland-Kaye said, according to BBC.

He said that if approved, the airport would be ready to implement the testing process “within weeks”. However, Dowden said that the government didn’t yet think the test was a “viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine”.

Under the original plans, the tests were set to be available in Heathrow’s Terminal 2 for arriving passengers. Upon arrival, travellers who opt-in would get a swab test, which will be sent to a Collinson laboratory. The traveller would then be allowed to travel to their self-quarantine location in England and be informed of the result of their test within 24 hours.

Passengers looking to take a test in order to avoid 14-day quarantine would have to pay for it themselves. While the cost hasn’t yet been released, Holland-Kaye said it would be around £150 per passenger.

Related: London Heathrow begins passenger temperature checks

While this exemption is a promising one, it very much remains a possibility at this point. There is no launch date for the trial, as well as no information as to when it may extend to other airports in the U.K. or other terminals within Heathrow. However, if approved, it would help the struggling airline industry, as well as the tourism industry in the U.K.

Featured photo by Xinhua News Agency/Getty Images.

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