Passengers flying from London Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy will now be able to get rapid coronavirus tests before checking in.
The test, which can be booked online from Tuesday, costs £80 ($104) and results will be available within 60 minutes.
The aim of the test is to help people traveling to destinations where proof of a negative result is needed on arrival.
Authorities in Hong Kong require passengers to provide a negative COVID-19 test result before they are allowed in, while those arriving in Italy from the U.K. need to either show that they have had a negative coronavirus test before departure, or take a test on arrival at an airport.
British Airways (owned by International Consolidated Airlines
), Virgin Atlantic (49% owned by Delta Air Lines
), and Cathay Pacific
all fly routes that now require pre-departure tests, and will be the first airlines to offer the testing, according to the two companies running it — medical and security assistance firm Collinson and ground and cargo handling company Swissport.
The throat and nose swab test, which will be available at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5, is known as a Lamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) test and has been developed by the University of Oxford. It is quicker than the polymerase chain reaction test because the sample doesn’t need to be sent to a laboratory.
The Lamp will be processed on-site by staff from one of Collinson’s biotech partners, Prenetics.
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of aviation trade body Airlines U.K., said he would like the cost of the test to be lower.
“For business passengers £80 is probably quite competitive but we’ve certainly said to the government in terms of introducing a test on arrival in the U.K. anything from £50-£60 would be better,” Alderslade told the BBC.
The news comes after transport secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday that he was hopeful that a new testing regime for international travelers to the U.K. can be in place by Dec. 1, reducing the quarantine period. Currently, this is 14 days for those arriving from areas not included on the government’s list of “travel corridors.”
Speaking at the Airlines: Beyond the Crisis conference, Shapps said: “My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed that a regime, based on a single test, provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger after a period of self-isolation, and doing those things could achieve our objectives.”
Shapps said the government’s Global Travel Taskforce was working “extensively” with health experts and the private testing sector on the practicalities of such a regime, and will report its recommendations to Prime Minister Boris Johnson in early November.
Passenger numbers have collapsed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as quarantine restrictions have grounded flights across the globe. The closed air corridor between the U.S. and the U.K. is costing the U.K. economy £32 million ($41 million) a day, according to a report from trade body Airlines U.K.
British Airways Chief Executive Sean Doyle said that the latest data from the International Air Transport Association suggests the risk of contracting COVID-19 on aircraft is extremely low, adding, “It’s vital we work together as an industry to explore every option to get travel moving.”
On Monday, Doyle, who took over as chief executive from Álex Cruz earlier in October, warned that the U.K. “will get left behind” if it continues to discourage travel through its quarantine regime.
Heathrow Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye said that the new testing facilities will make it easier for passengers going to those countries to get a test, and will have the potential to provide a service for arriving passengers.
“Ultimately, we need a common international standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the U.K. government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this,” Holland-Kaye added.
Collinson and Swissport announced in August that they had built a “Test-on-Arrival” facility at Heathrow. However, the center still needs approval from the government.
Traffic at Heathrow fell in September, with just over 1.2 million passengers traveling through the airport during the month, down 82% compared with 2019.