Heathrow airport to trial Covid-19 test so healthy visitors from high-risk places can avoid quarantine

Passengers would go on to their place of quarantine with the results made available within 24 hours. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - London's Heathrow airport plans to conduct trials of a coronavirus testing procedure that could allow the scrapping of quarantine rules for people arriving from territories including the US.

The pilot programme would be offered as a private service, with swabs taken by nurses from Collinson Group at a facility run by ground-handling firm Swissport International AG. Passengers would go on to their place of quarantine with the results made available within 24 hours.

"The government made a significant step forward last week by removing quarantine for visitors from many countries, but we still need a solution that safely allows passengers to travel to and from higher-risk countries," Heathrow chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye said in a statement.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last week in Parliament that the government is in touch with Swissport and will consider backing the plan for a trial.

The PCR or polymerase chain reaction tests would cost about £150 (S$261) and are recognised as effective by Britain's National Health Service, according to a Heathrow spokesman.

Britain on Friday (July 3) announced the lifting of the 14-day self isolation rule for passengers arriving from 74 territories, including most of Europe and long-haul locations including Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. Countries which continue to have a high incidence of Covid-19 cases were excluded, the US among them.

The International Air Transport Association has cited a passenger survey as indicating that the UK quarantine is as off-putting for would-be travellers as the pandemic itself. Airlines and leisure firms serving Britain have said the restrictions have prevented them from making the best of the disrupted summer season as lockdowns ease.

Heathrow has cut 500 management posts and begun talks about departures among its 5,500 front-line workers.

Zurich-based Swissport said last month it plans to cut 4,500 jobs in Britain as the world's biggest provider of airport handling services responds to a collapse in demand for travel.

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