Heathrow Covid-19 test centre: How could it work?

19 August 2020, 15:47

The testing centre has been proposed by Heathrow bosses
The testing centre has been proposed by Heathrow bosses. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Heathrow Airport has announced plans for a new coronavirus testing facility which could end 14-day quarantine rules from certain countries. But how could the test centre work and would it affect arrivals?

The tests could be in place for those returning from certain countries, with ministers saying the new system will "protect the economy".

Airport bosses have created a testing facility at Heathrow's Terminal 2 and hope to have another one ready at Terminal 5 "by the end of the month".

Heathrow executives hope those testing negative could leave quarantine five to eight days after landing, though the airport's programme needs Government approval before it can begin.

It comes as The Daily Telegraph reported Cabinet ministers will meet next week to discuss plans to replace blanket quarantines with Covid-19 testing for travellers.

Documents released on Friday from Sage's June 18 meeting showed the scientific group found "double testing of travellers significantly reduces the risk of false negatives and could enable quarantine duration of less than 14 days".

But how could a test centre work and would it affect arrivals to the UK?

The tests could reduce quarantine time for those entering the UK
The tests could reduce quarantine time for those entering the UK. Picture: PA

What is the new system?

Under a testing system, passengers arriving in the UK will be able to book a coronavirus test and be sent results within seven hours under the airport's plans, which are similar to schemes in Germany and Iceland.

Travellers will be able to opt for a second home test a few days later and then leave quarantine early if they pass both checks, the Daily Mail reported.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye wrote in the Mail the airport had been calling on the Government to introduce testing as an alternative to quarantine for months.

He said: "Heathrow is ready to support this provided the Government sets clear guidelines for a second test and changes regulations to allow passengers who provide two negative tests to leave quarantine early.

"We have worked closely with aviation services company Collinson and logistics firm Swissport to ensure such a testing procedure can be in place. If the Government is serious about protecting the economy, this is exactly what should be done."

Mr Holland-Kaye said double-testing "could have been in place for those caught up in the French problems last weekend".

"It is not too late to save people returning from Greece, Croatia or Italy the inconvenience of 14 days at home," he added.

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How would the test centre work?

Passengers returning from anywhere not on the government safe list would be able to book a coronavirus test.

The test would cost £150 per person initially, with the possibility of falling to £50 each with a state subsidy if rolled out widely enough, according to the Daily Mail.

The swab PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test would be the same as those carried out by the NHS and would be performed by nurses at the airport.

Results would be available within seven hours.

Returning travellers would be expected to go home and quarantine as usual even if they get a negative result due to Heathrow's plans to enact a two-test system.

Between five and eight days later, an at a home-testing kit would be performed.

This test would be provided at the airport at the same time the first test was undertaken.

Passenger returning from France to Glasgow

How would arrivals be impacted?

People would have to queue to be swabbed at the airport, which could mean additional waiting time to leave the airport.

However, airport bosses have said the tests are "quick and simple".

The Heathrow testing centre can cater for 13,000 passengers a day, a spokesman said.

David Evans, joint CEO of Collinson, one of the companies working on the Heathrow scheme, told Sky News that given the choice between two weeks in quarantine and "a few extra minutes to get this test", passengers are expected to be understanding about wait times.

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Is it working elsewhere?

Double-testing systems are already being used in 30 countries worldwide including Germany, Iceland and Austria.

Jersey is also operating the same scheme proposed for Heathrow.

A Heathrow spokesman said: "Consistent with the findings of all other countries that have trialled and implemented testing on arrival, the testing was found to be highly effective at detecting coronavirus at the border and preventing onward transmission in the community."