Rapid testing at airports required to get the travel industry working again
It is no secret that the travel sector has been disproportionately affected by the COVID 19 pandemic. The most pressing issue in this segment is forward planning. People need to be able to book and travel with confidence. Confidence that it is not only safe to travel but that after booking or during travel regulations will not change. Various European countries have introduced mandatory PCR's on arrivals at airports however the UK government has steered away from this preferring to implement quarantine once countries meet specific criteria. Industry leaders are currently working with governments to find ways of testing passengers on arrival to assist people to get back to planning and traveling. British Airways is currently working with governments to find a way to reopen the transatlantic routes with mandatory testing on arrival. 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 trialled internationally by 30 countries such as Germany, which found it safe. Jersey has also made a requirement for mandatory testing on entry and, 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 results of these test take between 24 and 48 hours so there is still some disruption to travel.
Michele Robson a contributor for Forbes Magazine recently reported that Heathrow airport has trialled three rapid point COVID-19 tests which may prevent the implementation of blanket quarantine rules and facilitate recovery of the travel and aviation sector. One of the tests, where Heathrow worked with I-Abra to trial their Virolens testing device, claims to provide the results in as little as 30 seconds. A machine learning holographic microscope, the device is designed to identify if a person is carrying the disease. In the other two tests, the airport worked with Geneme and Mologic. These two tests are expected to provide results in 30 and ten minutes, respectively. The participants were given the option to choose any of the three solutions. Also, they underwent a government-approved privately provided PCR test to enable the comparison of the two results. The results of the trials are only advisory. The initiative will also help in determining if such tests can be conducted on passengers outside of a laboratory setting.
Following the evaluation, Heathrow will share the data with the government.
Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Testing is the lifeline that the UK’s aviation sector needs to get back on its feet. We have put some of the most cutting-edge rapid testing technologies into action at Heathrow to see which offers the best solution. “If we can find a test that is accurate, gets a result within a matter of minutes, is cost-effective and gets the Government green light, we could have the potential to introduce wide-scale testing at the airport.
“Every passenger travelling through Heathrow would have the confidence to know the airport is Covid-free, boosting demand and getting Global Britain back to safely trading and travelling with the world again. Without this, our first-class aviation sector risks becoming second class, giving Britain’s competitive advantage to others.” The UK government is yet to validate these results.
Forbes Magazine, Travel Weekly