Heathrow Offers Pre-Departure Rapid Covid-19 Tests
(Bloomberg) -- London Heathrow airport will offer rapid Covid-19 tests to departing passengers as more territories require travelers to provide virus assessments as a condition of entry.
The Oxford LAMP tests will cost 80 pounds ($104) and can be used for travel to destinations including Hong Kong and Italy that are requiring a negative Covid-19 result, according to a statement Tuesday from Collinson Group, which set up the facility at Heathrow. Results will be available in as little as 60 minutes.
The airline industry has been asking for a uniform testing regime to replace a variety of international restrictions on travel. The tests at Heathrow will accommodate destinations that are adopting pre-flight rapid testing, though the U.K. itself still quarantines most arriving travelers. Specific plans being introduced vary, with Cyprus and the Bahamas, for example, mandating a RT-PCR test, which takes longer and isn’t offered at Heathrow.
The London hub and IAG SA-owned British Airways, its anchor tenant, are pushing for the government to replace the two-week quarantine with a pre-flight testing approach. The U.K. has resisted this idea, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps reiterating on Monday that border testing won’t catch all Covid-19 cases.
Shares of European airlines, hotels and airport operators rose on the Heathrow trial and a separate announcement that airports in France are gearing up to offer fast coronavirus testing. IAG jumped 5.9% as of 10:48 a.m. in London. Air France-KLM was up 2.2% in Paris.
A combination of rapid testing, vaccines and digital health passports such as the World Economic Forum-backed CommonPass app could help restart international travel, according to Sandy Morris, an analyst at Jefferies.
“Over time, national border restrictions and quarantine rules could be eased or abandoned,” Morris wrote in a research note Tuesday.
The U.K. has set up a task force to consider using tests that would halve the mandatory self-isolation period, though airlines have said even that won’t be enough to bring back international flights. Airlines have repeatedly complained about a lack of coordination among governments that’s contributed to a a steep slump in international travel. For network airlines like IAG, the trans-Atlantic trade to the U.S. is key to returning to profitability.
The CommonPass app is also gaining traction, with a trial of the test-tracking system getting under way Wednesday on a flight from Heathrow to Newark, N.J., according to the Commons Project.
Singapore and Hong Kong agreed last week to open their borders to one another for the first time in almost seven months, with testing mandatory for travelers. Details of the program, which is expected to start within weeks, haven’t yet been publicly laid out.
Italy is expanding a virus-testing trial started at Rome’s Fiumicino airport in September. Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and the French Riviera hub in Nice will begin deploying rapid Covid-19 tests for passengers heading to the U.S., Italy and French overseas territories by the end of this month, French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Tuesday in a local radio interview.
U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Monday that the U.K. was considering a test regime that could be in place by Dec. 1. It would allow travelers to take a test a week after arriving in the country to obtain an early end to the two-week quarantine.
The government is also discussing setting up a trial program involving pre-isolation and testing with several countries, including the U.S., he said without giving a date.
Sean Doyle, British Airways’ new chief executive officer, said Monday that a seven-day quarantine won’t work. He said he’s heard little from the U.S. or U.K. on the proposed pilot program for virus testing on London-New York services.
“We aren’t getting any support or action and we’re not hearing from governments what they’re thinking,” he said at an Airlines 2050 webinar.
For Wednesday’s United Airlines Holdings Inc. flight using CommonPass, passengers will be tested at Heathrow. The results will be uploaded on the mobile app, which will provide a QR code that can be scanned by airline officials or authorities in Newark.
The flight will respect all existing travel regulations -- for example, all passengers will be U.S. citizens or have permission to enter, given U.S. restrictions on entry to foreign air travelers, said Thomas Crampton, a spokesman for the Commons Project.
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