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After Heathrow Proposal, U.K. Plans on Airport COVID-19 Tests

After Heathrow Proposal, U.K. Plans on Airport COVID-19 Tests
Joe Cortez

The British government is considering a plan which would bring COVID-19 tests to airports and other ports-of-entry, potentially ending the need for quarantines. The U.K. Health Secretary says they are working on a plan to offer on-arrival mass testing, which could help open borders.

The United Kingdom Department of Health and Social Care is reported to be working on a new testing plan, which could eliminate the need for mandatory quarantines upon arrival. Bloomberg reports the U.K. health secretary wants to introduce tests at ports-of-entry, which could eliminate the need for the current 14-day mandatory quarantine for all foreign visitors.

Mass Testing Scheme Part of a “Moonshot” Strategy

In comments made on the radio, U.K. health minister Matt Hancock said his department was working through a mass testing strategy. If rolled out successfully, the government official says it could potentially reduce the self-isolation requirement currently in place for all foreign arrivals.

“This is one of the examples of why mass testing can help,” Hancock said, as quoted by Bloomberg. “If you can have a test technology where the test result comes back in a matter of minutes rather than the next day because you don’t have to send it to the lab, then you can check that people don’t have and aren’t transmitting the virus now.”

Although a plan is in the works, it may not be deployed to airports and other entryways in the immediate future. Hancock noted that because COVID-19 has an incubation period up to 14 days, it may be undetectable during the first exam. The government would still need to ensure contact tracing, and potentially need to confirm the first test with another within the 14-day window.

Hancock said their “moonshot” strategy would be to have a fast-working test that could be deployed quickly and across the country. The ministry provided no timeline for when or how testing could be offered to incoming travelers, saying it was something they would be “ramping up over the remainder of this year.”

Arrivals Testing Proposed by Heathrow Airport

The minister’s comments come weeks after London Heathrow Airport (LHR) proposed a testing plan for foreign flyers. Working with two airport services partners, the airport suggested offering arriving passengers the opportunity to request a test upon arrival, with results coming in hours instead of days. The plan is pending government approval.

View Comments (4)


  1. Groucho

    August 20, 2020 at 7:07 am

    Let’s be quite clear. Nothing in the ‘self isolation’ policy is specific to foreign visitors (citizens of foreign countries) arriving in the UK. It’s ALL arrivals from specific foreign countries that are considered high risk because of the COVID-19 daily infection rate. Of course it’s easier for a UK resident to go and self-isolate because they have somewhere to go… much harder if you are a visitor. There are some exceptions – air-crew, people travelling to undertake COVID-19 related work etc.

    But the bit that is really rather weak in this whole thing is the enforcement – “go and stay at home for 14 days” “Sure, bye”
    The number of people who have been caught / prosecuted for breaking their 14 day self-isolation is tiny.

  2. deduckfan

    August 20, 2020 at 7:07 am

    Actually, Heathrow’s on-site testing is operational. They just need government approval.

  3. Bs65

    August 22, 2020 at 2:16 am

    Plus of course if I read correctly somewhere potentially upto150 pounds a test, fine on expenses but otherwise depends how desperate someone is to travel.. And then of course this could be into UK and on return to origin if latter will not accept the UK a double hit potentially.

  4. sfoeuroflyer

    August 30, 2020 at 10:49 am

    So let’s roll this out wider. These so called “health officers” are expert in shutting things down and destroying economic activity, but slovenly and clumsy at solving problems. They proceed on the infantile premise that anything new has to be perfect. Well in medicine things are not perfect. Ever. They forget that “perfect” is the enemy of “good”. A 14 day quarantine is clumsy and only minimally effective. A rapid test may not be perfect but whatever its imperfections they likely are not worse than a quarantine.

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