Heathrow could soon offer passengers the option to undergo a COVID-19 test ©Getty Images

Heathrow set to be the first airport in the UK to trial COVID-19 tests

Maintrip July 08, 2020

Last Update: 2020-07-08 02:08:27

Passengers arriving at Heathrow may have the option to bypass quarantine with coronavirus tests upon arrival.

London's Heathrow will be the first UK airport to offer medical COVID-19 tests, if the government gives the project the green light. The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) pilot testing scheme will be available for passengers arriving from countries that are not exempt from England's quarantine regulations, such as the US, Portugal, China and Brazil. If passengers are given the all-clear with negative tests results they won't have to self-isolate for 14 days.

On Friday, the government published a list of 59 countries with low COVID-19 rates to be exempt from quarantine when arriving into England. Among those on the list are New Zealand, Australia, Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Cyprus, Jamaica and the Netherlands. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales are yet to decide whether to ease travel restrictions and quarantine rules are still in place for international arrivals.

Passengers arriving at Heathrow from countries not on the quarantine exemption list would be required to go to the airport testing clinic and undergo a swab process, similar to the NHS testing method. They would then go to their home or accommodation, with strict instructions to remain indoors except for essential trips for food, until they receive their results by phone within 24 hours. If they test negative, they can continue their trip as normal. However, if they receive a positive result they will have to self-isolate for 14 days. Passengers would have to cover the cost of the test themselves.

A pilot wears a facemask as he arrives at Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport ©Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty Images
A pilot wears a facemask as he arrives at Terminal 5 at Heathrow airport ©Adrian Dennis / AFP / Getty Images

"We went for the gold standard, and that’s PCR testing, that’s the most sensitive test, it occurs up and down the land and is carried out by the NHS," Dr Simon Worrell, global medical director of Collinson Group (the medical company supplying the tests) told the Telegraph. 

Many airports already offer voluntary tests on arrival, including Vienna where passengers have the option to take a €190 (£166) test to bypass quarantine. Iceland also has a similar testing program. Heathrow's pilot could start in two weeks and if it's successful, it could be rolled out to other UK airports.