April 18, 2024

Testing centre opens at Heathrow

By Bev Fearis, published 19/08/20

Heathrow has established the first Covid-19 testing centre for arriving passengers, developed by logistics firms Swissport and Collinson.

It has 24 booths for swab tests and could handle more than 13,000 passenger tests per day.

But although the centre in Terminal 2 is ready to go, no passengers will be able to use it until ministers give the go-ahead for a trial.

Collinson, Swissport and Heathrow announced a pilot of the tests in July and have been in discussions with various Government departments to find a testing model that will enable safe travel and reduce the impact of quarantine.

With Government backing, the pilot of the new testing procedure could be available immediately as a private service to anyone with a flight landing in Terminal 2, and within a few weeks for those arriving in Terminal 5.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Testing will not only avoid the ‘quarantine roulette’ that so many passengers faced in Spain and France, it will also open up flights to key trading partners such as the U.S., Canada and Singapore. The Government’s own research shows that a double test has a high level of accuracy in screening for Covid. This facility is an oven-ready opportunity to see how Britain can safely reopen for business, as other countries are doing.”

Richard Cawthra, Chief Commercial Officer for Swissport, added: “We’ve created the new facility in Heathrow Terminal 2 as we know from other countries that airport-based testing is the way forward. We know the logistics work needed and are ready to go with the tests. All we need now is Government buy-in that those with negative tests will be released early from quarantine.”

Earlier this week airline chiefs wrote to Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, recommending the adoption of German-style state testing at UK airports.

The letter from the bosses of British Airways, Tui Group, easyJet, Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic argue that testing is the best way to re-open transatlantic links with the U.S. by allowing passengers from ‘high risk’ nations to travel freely to the UK.

Germany introduced a free and mandatory PCR test on arrivals in early August for higher risk countries at all major airports. Travellers must isolate until a result is produced within 24 hours. If the test comes back negative, they can avoid the 14-day quarantine.

The letter, signed by BA’s Alex Cruz, Virgin Atlantic’s Shai Weiss, Tui’s Kenton Jarvis, easyJet’s Johan Lundgren, Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary and Tim Alderslade, the Chief Executive of Airlines UK, said: “We recognise there isn’t a single international approach, but we believe a UK testing protocol based on the German model would stimulate significant demand whilst protecting public health.

“We have suggested that officials urgently scrutinise the evidence used by the German Government to decide in favour of a one test on arrival system. We urge ministers to take decisive action when policy decisions are made in the weeks ahead.”

It said the UK risks falling behind other nations, such as Germany, France, China, India, the UAE and Iceland, who have moved more quickly on traveller testing.

“The severe impact on UK-US air connectivity is particularly damaging to the UK with the U.S. being its most important economic partner,” said the letter.

“It (testing) would play a critical role both in supporting U.S-UK connectivity but also in safeguarding connections with key European and other global markets.”