Heathrow calls for coronavirus tests at UK airports

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Media captionHeathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye: “There is still work to be done, we have to test and learn”.

The Heathrow boss has called for airports to be allowed to test for the coronavirus to avoid the ‘cliff edge’ of quarantine.

John Holland-Kaye told the BBC that changes in travel advice in Spain show the need for an alternative.

He said he wanted the government to work with him on the plan.

But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the BBC that as the virus can develop over time, testing was not a “quick fix”.

“We are not at the point where there is a viable alternative to the 14-day quarantine,” Dowden said, adding that all options were under consideration.

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Mr Holland-Kaye said the passenger would have to pay the cost of each test, which would be around £ 150 if taken at the airport.

He acknowledged that it was “not cheap,” but that the test would be reduced over time as more and more people took it.

But he said some would be willing to bear the cost: “There are people who worry about being able to go back to work or send the children to school, there will be people who will be willing to pay for that to avoid the extra period. . quarantine. ”

The idea of ​​introducing testing at airports is an interesting idea.

The theory that people could travel wherever they want and get tested when they return to the country, eliminating the need for self-isolation.

But the government is not convinced.

Why? Logistically testing all the travelers who arrive each week will be difficult.

The testing capacity has increased, but it would stretch the system. Not to mention the practical difficulties of setting up test facilities at busy airports.

But the other factor, which is perhaps more crucial, is that in the early stages of the infection the test may not even detect it.

Instead, officials are much more convinced of a smarter, focused approach to self-isolation.

This would involve asking only those who come from parts of a country with the highest infection rates to self-isolate.

This could then be supplemented by asking them to get tested after a week, which means that if they test negative, it would not be necessary to isolate themselves completely for 14 days.

All this and more is discussed behind the scenes.

Speaking to the BBC’s Today program, Mr Holland-Kaye said: “The aim would be to do a test on arrival. We could make it work in the next couple of weeks and then we have to work with the government to see what happens next. . ”

He said the plan would be for passengers to self-quarantine and have another test after eight days: “If they were infected we would be sure it turned out. If it was clear, they would be allowed out of quarantine sooner. that this had been the case. It is very scientifically based. ”

Under current rules, those arriving in the UK from certain countries must self-isolate for 14 days.

The government said it was monitoring all quarantine measures.

It is said to be considering an eight-day period between testing, while travel industry figures are interested for a five-day period.

The number of days required between each test is essential to reduce the possibility of “false negative” results.

A false negative result is possible if a person who has recently contracted Covid-19 does not have symptoms.

France is set to launch a mandatory two-test regime for people arriving from 16 at-risk countries, including the United States.

Mr Holland-Kaye said the airport wanted to start testing with Singapore and Canada.

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