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Coronavirus: Heathrow airport trials Covid-19 test that ‘gives results in 30 seconds’

Aviation chiefs hope government will approve rapid checks that avoid need for quarantine

Jane Dalton
Monday 31 August 2020 14:42 BST
Coronavirus in numbers
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Heathrow airport has been carrying out trials of a coronavirus test that claims to provide results in as little as 30 seconds, in the hope of screening passengers and sparing some from quarantine.

About 250 airport staff took part in the trial, choosing one of three different tests, which have yet to be proven effective.

One self-administered test involves a “machine-learning holographic microscope” which, backers including Dell and Intel hope, can identify whether a person is carrying the disease and offer results in less than half a minute.

Two other experimental tests claim to give results in 10 and 30 minutes.

Heathrow bosses are examining the findings of the trials and will share the information with ministers in an attempt to persuade them to replace quarantine for “red list” country arrivals and increase passenger numbers again.

Currently, travellers from countries including France, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands and Switzerland must self-isolate for 14 days after flying into the UK. The aviation industry is chafing at the restrictions, which leaders believe are deterring many people from taking foreign holidays.

Oxford and Manchester universities are working with Heathrow on the three rapid tests to screen people on arrival and departure for Covid-19 infection.

If they are successful and become available, the tests could cost as little as £30 each.

“The long-term aim of the trial is to understand whether these tests could be quickly and efficiently conducted on large numbers of people outside of a laboratory setting and to ensure they are accurate enough to be delivered in an airport environment,” a Heathrow spokesperson said.

“The trials evaluate three different testing methods for accuracy, user experience and practicality outside of a lab environment.”

The airport monitored the various sample collection methods and result times to determine the most efficient and user-friendly testing method.

Some countries already administer tests in airports. But at present, the UK does not allow the quarantine period to be reduced if the traveller tests negative because of incubation times.

Heathrow already has a testing centre where passengers can pay £150 for an antigen test, to show whether they have coronavirus. It needs a negative follow-up test later to allow someone to come out of quarantine.

The other two tests involve a nasal or throat swab that produces results in 30 minutes, and a saliva test that shows results in 10 minutes.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said that without rapid tests, Britain’s competitive advantage in aviation may be lost to other countries.

An airport statement read: “As the results of these initial trials are only advisory until the methodologies are proven to work in a non-clinical setting, participating colleagues also took a government -approved, privately provided PCR test, administered by Collinson Assistance Services Ltd to compare their results to government-accredited tests.”

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