Airport testing for coronavirus could be introduced within days after a trial of three rapid Covid-19 tests.
The tests, which have been trialled among workers at Heathrow Airport, would ease the quarantine stranglehold on the UK travel industry if successful.
The UK government has suggested it may allow the coronavirus testing trial of passengers in October and transatlantic flights could take-off by the end of November.
Findings from the trials at Heathrow are being evaluated and will be shared with government as ministers consider how testing could provide a safe alternative to blanket quarantine.
The long-term aim of the trial is to understand whether these tests could be quickly and efficiently conducted on large numbers of people outside of a laboratory setting and to ensure they are accurate enough to be delivered in an airport environment.
The trials evaluated different testing methods for accuracy, user experience and practicality outside of a lab environment with a facility ready to begin.
Passengers would have to pay for tests, with a £150 fee discussed.
In testing trials, Heathrow worked with:
- Geneme has proposed a test which uses a sample collected from a nasal or throat swab to provide results within 30 minutes. Results can be sent to an individual’s phone using an app or to a specified email.
- Mologic uses a saliva sample on a test device, which provides a result in 10 minutes.
- I-Abra is working with the airport to trial a machine that can accurately identify within 30 seconds whether a person is carrying the disease through a self-administered test.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said: “Testing is the lifeline that the UK’s aviation sector needs to get back on its feet.
“We’ve 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 trials further complement an existing swab testing-on-arrival pilot, which was unveiled last week.
The scheme, which is subject to government approval, could provide passengers arriving from countries with higher infection rates with a reduced quarantine period if they test negative for Covid-19 twice.