Skift Take

A step in the right direction, although some passengers might balk at the price tag and wonder why the UK government can't apply the same tests when they return.

Travelers heading to Hong Kong and Italy from the UK can now take local government-approved Covid tests.

From Tuesday, Collinson and Swissport will offer rapid testing from Terminals 2 and 5 at London Heathrow Airport, which they claim is a first for a major UK airport.

Hong Kong and Italy currently require passengers to provide evidence of a negative Covid result prior to departure. British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific will offer their passengers the tests — but they come at a cost, and in a few cases at a price higher than the actual airfare.

The private test costs $103 (£80), and aims to provide departing passengers with their results in one hour. British Airways, for one, is offering a return fare to Rome from $100 (£77.61) on November 1.

The airport facilities will initially supply Antigen and Oxford University LAMP tests. These differ from RT-PCR tests, which a growing number of countries and territories, including Cyprus, Greece, Bahamas, and Bermuda, now require to be shown at check-in.

Unlike RT-PCR tests, LAMP and Antigen tests can be processed without being sent to a laboratory. Other types of tests could be added later, as more countries continue to accept a wider variety of testing methods as an alternative to travel restrictions and quarantines.

The Nurse Will See You Now

Passengers need to set up an account and book their test online at before beginning their journey to the airport. Tests are carried out by Collinson nurses, who take a swab which is processed on-site by staff from one of Collinson’s biotech partners, Prenetics.

Passengers are advised to book their test in advance.

“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,” said David Evans, joint CEO at Collinson.

“Government restrictions around the world will continue to fluctuate, but we, with our medical services and biotech partner network, have the capability to flex our offering to bespoke country needs, ensuring that, whatever the restriction, we can provide a way to keep travel moving, safely, without negatively impacting UK public testing capacity,” he added.

The new facility comes as Heathrow also prepares to trial the CommonPass digital heath passport. The trial begins on Wednesday for select United Airlines passengers flying to Newark Airport in the U.S. Other countries involved are Singapore and Hong Kong, which last week created their own travel bubble, where travelers under the scheme would need to get negative Covid-19 test results and travel on dedicated flights.

Speaking at Skift Forum Asia, Edward Bell, general manager of brands, insights, and marketing at Cathay Pacific, said trials of new test procedures were important. “As we know now, we’re not going to have a situation where countries are 100 percent infected or 100 percent safe,” he said. “Covid is here to stay, and we need to develop techniques and procedures to manage it and get on with our lives.”

Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye has also called for a common standard at airports worldwide. “Ultimately, we need a common international standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this. We will work with them to make this happen as soon as possible, so that we protect livelihoods as well as lives.”

Outbound, Not Inbound

Despite the tests being approved by Hong Kong and Italy, Collinson and Swissport are still waiting for the UK government to give the green light to their “Test-on-Arrival” facility at Heathrow Airport, amid calls for the new Global Travel Taskforce to replace the UK’s existing 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals from many countries.

“We urgently need the introduction of a passenger testing regime here in the UK to safely replace quarantine,” said Virgin Atlantic CEO Shai Weiss. “As long as the 14-day quarantine remains in place, demand for travel will not return and the UK’s economic recovery, which relies on free flowing trade and tourism, cannot take off. Half a million UK jobs depend on open skies and a fully functioning UK aviation industry. The government’s Global Travel Taskforce must act swiftly to replace quarantine with passenger testing in November.”

The new outbound testing facilities at Heathrow Airport will initially be open for four weeks, monitoring passenger and airline demand.


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Tags: airlines + transport, cathay pacific, coronavirus, heathrow, hong kong, italy, united airlines, virgin atlantic

Photo credit: Collinson and Swissport are offering rapid Covid tests from Terminals 2 and 5 at London Heathrow Airport. Collinson

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