Heathrow Steps Up Calls for Covid-19 Testing on U.K. Arrivals to Limit Quarantine

London Heathrow airport will aim to introduce Covid-19 testing for arriving passengers by September if it can secure official U.K. approval for the move.

There has been more engagement from the government over testing in the last few days, Heathrow Chief Executive Officer John Holland-Kaye said in an interview. The possibility that Britain could repeat its reimposition of quarantine on people arriving from Spain for other countries has helped to energize the discussion, he said.

Shifting restrictions are holding back a return to air travel at Europe’s busiest airport, as the virus flares up in key summer destinations like Catalonia in Spain. Heathrow said earlier this month that it wanted to trial a testing procedure that could allow the period spent in isolation to be reduced, but the proposal has yet to gain the U.K.’s backing.

How soon the program can start depends on the government, but it could be up and running by September if it gets the go-ahead, according to the airport CEO.

“It might be too late for outbound tourists from the U.K. but it might be good timing for businesses and students coming in to study,” Holland-Kaye said. “There’s quite a strong inbound travel market in September.”

Heathrow’s parent posted a second-quarter loss of 93 million pounds ($120 million) before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization as lockdowns led the passenger tally to plunge 96%. While carriers have since begun to resume services, the 14-day quarantine for arrivals in Britain is weighing on demand.

Swab Testing

Heathrow is proposing a private testing service with swabs taken by nurses from Collinson Group at a facility run by ground-handling firm Swissport International AG. The tests would cost around 150 pounds.

Passengers would likely be tested on arrival at the airport and then given a second test to confirm a negative result after five or eight days, so that a significant period of quarantine would still be required. Holland-Kaye said the airport is looking at how it could reduce the time between the first and second test after the pilot phase, as well as at cheaper alternatives.

Oliver Dowden, secretary of state for digital and culture, sounded a note of caution about testing and the risks from seeking to truncate the process.

“People can be tested as they come off planes and still be incubating the disease and not test positive,” he told Sky News on Wednesday. “Do go to France to Italy and other places on your holidays but do appreciate we are at a very risky moment in this pandemic.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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