October saw the announcement by the transport secretary, Grant Schapps, that new arrivals at Heathrow and Gatwick would be given the chance to take a coronavirus test. The test costs £80, and passengers are guaranteed a result within the hour. The aim of the scheme is to assist passengers travelling to countries where a negative test result is a requirement upon arrival.
2020 has, to put it mildly, been an extremely challenging time for the global aviation industry. Passenger numbers plummeted during what would have been peak holidaymaking season. With so many passengers taking the decision to avoid holidaying aboard, and so many local and national lockdowns making international travel impossible, the year has been disastrous for both leisure and business travel.
Heathrow’s new rapid testing is designed to mitigate some of these effects, and facilitate travel to regions like Hong Kong, where a negative test result taken within seventy-two hours of arrival is required. Given the time it takes to actually fly to Hong Kong, getting one at the airport makes a great deal of sense.
The test itself comes in the form of a saliva swab, technically known as a Lamp (that’s a Loop-mediated isothermal amplification). It’s different to the antigen test, which is also used in cases where rapid results are required, and to the PCR test widely used by the NHS, which requires lengthy laboratory testing. The new test is available to customers of British Airways, Cathay Pacific and Virgin Atlantic.
There are, however, some limitations. Certain destinations, like Cyprus, require a negative PCR test – which means those travelling to the island will need the laboratory test that comes from the NHS. Until countries like this relax their entry requirements, the convenience of the airport test will be of no benefit to them.
This measure will effectively limit the number of contagious passengers from boarding the plane, which, along with the myriad other measures put into place, will make the entire process of travelling that much safer. This in turn may help to encourage more business travel into London, on the basis that would-be international employees might be more easily lured to the country. The plethora of culture, entertainment and serviced apartments that London offers might have a similar effect, once those things make their own returns. Should the scheme prove a success, it might be emulated by other airports, and international travel might resume.
Of course, the second national lockdown implemented in England has put a halt to these developments – and it remains to be seen when it’ll relax.