Rapid one-hour Covid tests begin at Heathrow airport

Julia Kollewe
·4-min read

Photograph: LHR Airports Limited/PA

Passengers flying from London Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy will be able to have a rapid Covid-19 test at the airport before checking in from Tuesday.

The test costs £80 and results will be available within an hour.

The aim is to provide rapid Covid-19 tests for passengers travelling to destinations that require pre-departure tests, including Hong Kong and Italy.

Related: Covid 'test-and-release' system for airlines 'in place by December'

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific, which all fly routes that require pre-departure tests, will be the first airlines to offer it, according to the two companies that will run the testing, Collinson, a medical and security assistance firm, and Swissport, the ground and cargo handling company.

A throat and nose swab will be taken to test for Covid-19. The test is known as a loop-mediated isothermal amplification (Lamp) test. It differs from a PCR test, which is used by the NHS, because it can be processed quickly without being sent to a laboratory.

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What are the quarantine rules?

Anyone entering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from somewhere that is not on that country’s list of exempt travel corridors is required to go into self-isolation for 14 days.

What if the rules are not the same between the different countries of the UK?

You can’t get round the rules by using a different airport. For instance, as of 4 September travellers returning to Wales and Scotland from Portugal are required to quarantine. This is true even if they fly into an English airport, despite Portugal still being on England’s green list.

How are the rules enforced?

Everyone entering the UK, including British nationals, must fill in a passenger locator form, regardless of whether or not they need to quarantine. The form asks travellers to provide their contact details and UK address.

If someone who is required to self-isolate does not provide an address, the government will arrange accommodation at the traveller’s expense.

What does quarantine mean you can’t do?

For 14 days, starting from the day after arrival, people who are quarantining should not:

  • Go to work, school, or public areas.

  • Have visitors, except for essential support.

  • Go out to buy food, or other essentials, if they can rely on others to do this for them.

  • Use taxis or public transport to reach their destination on arrival in the UK, if possible.

  • Use public transport or taxis once at their destination.

The quarantine rules apply to everyone apart from selected groups of people such as freight drivers, very regular business travellers, and politicians or other dignitaries.

How do I find out which countries are on the list?

The travel restrictions are being frequently updated, and are available on the relevant government and administration websites linked to here, with separate lists covering England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

The tests will be carried out by Collinson nurses in new facilities within Heathrow terminals 2 and 5. Passengers must book their test online with Collinson before going to the airport.

The swab will be processed at the airport by staff from one of Collinson’s biotech partners, Prenetics.

The Lamp test is less sensitive than the PCR test, but is considered to be better than an antigen test, another rapid option.

John Holland-Kaye, the chief executive of Heathrow airport, said: “Many other countries are already using testing to keep their borders safe while restarting trade and travel. These facilities will make it easier for passengers going to those countries to get a test and have the potential to provide a service for arriving passengers.”

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Collinson and Swissport have built a test-on-arrival facility at Heathrow that needs UK government approval before it can be used. The aviation industry is urging the government to launch a testing regime that provides a safe alternative to the 14-day quarantine.

The news comes a day after Grant Shapps, the UK transport secretary, said a “test-and-release system” to cut the quarantine period for international arrivals to the UK should be in place by 1 December.

David Evans, the Collinson joint chief executive, said: “With countries around the world adding the UK to their list of ‘high risk’ countries, we need to find a way to work with governments, leading travel brands and other commercial entities to safely open up travel out of the UK.”

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