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London Heathrow Airport Fronts Plan for On-Site COVID-19 Testing

Flyers at airport wearing face masks

The United Kingdom’s largest air hub says they can now test pilots and passengers for COVID-19 on arrival. Working with two airline resource companies, London Heathrow says they can potentially launch “Test-on-Arrival” with the hopes of telling people if they test positive in hours, instead of days.

London Heathrow Airport (LHR) says they have developed both a method and procedure to test pilots and passengers on arrival for COVID-19, with results coming in hours. In a press release, Collison Group announced by working with the airport and service provider Swissport, the “Test-on-Arrival” plan could welcome more travelers in while reducing quarantine time.

How “Test-on-Arrival” Works

Currently in the proposal phase, the Collison plan would offer private tests to anyone arriving at London Heathrow’s Terminal 2. To get tested, flyers would have to setup an account and book their test online prior to arrival.

Upon landing, Collison nurses would provide a RT-PCR swab test at a Swissport facility. Those swabs would then be sent out to a nearby Collison lab, using protocols established by the UK National Health System for at-home testing.

A composite of what the testing facility at LHR may look like. Image courtesy: Collison Group

Once complete, the passengers will be sent to their hotel or address they provided when they booked their test. Arriving passengers will be asked to self-quarantine for at least 24 hours, allowing the lab time to process the swabs and deliver results.

Collison claims the test is sensitive enough to detect a novel Coronavirus infection “even when a passenger has displayed no symptoms.” If the proposal moves forward, Collison says their goal is to allow travelers to once again enter the country without worrying about a quarantine, ultimately driving traveler confidence and economic recovery through travel.

Collison Plans Ahead While Waiting for Government Approval

The British government has not yet added Collison’s test plans to their 43rd exemption to the quarantine. Yet, Collison and Swissport are working together to offer the plans to other airports, hoping the resulting testing will reduce the need for quarantining all passengers.

“We’re looking forward to working with Heathrow to pilot this science-led approach,” David Evans, joint chief executive of Collison, said in the press release. “Together, we can provide a pioneering solution that will get the travel and aviation sector back on its feet, which will be a massive boost for the UK’s economy.”

Despite the plan, the rest of Europe isn’t necessarily comfortable with Britain’s approach to the COVID-19 pandemic. In a YouGov poll reported by ITIJ, residents of France, Germany, Italy and Spain said the UK was at the bottom of their list for unrestricted travel.

This isn’t the first time an airport has implemented testing for COVID-19 as part of their safety plan. In June 2020, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) announced a trial using thermal imaging cameras to detect signs of a Coronavirus infection among arriving passengers.