Quarantine: airport coronavirus test proposed to swerve self-isolation

“The aviation sector, which is what this trial is about, would get on its feet,’ says Swissport boss Jason Holt

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Saturday 20 June 2020 08:34 BST
Check point: Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 2
Check point: Arrivals at Heathrow Terminal 2 (Simon Calder)

An airport ground-handing company is asking the government if travellers arriving in the UK could gain exemption from self-isolation by taking a Covid-19 test.

Swissport is proposing that a £140 test, claimed to be to NHS hospital standards, should replace the need for a passenger to remain at home for 14 days from the day following arrival.

On 8 June, mandatory quarantine began for almost all arrivals at UK airports, ferry ports and international rail terminals.

The government said: “The quarantine system is informed by science, backed by the public and designed to keep us all safe.”

There is no exemption from anyone carrying a certificate indicating they are free of coronavirus.

But Swissport wants to offer a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) saliva swab test to arriving travellers. They would take the test at a medical centre close to the airport terminal, then go home or to a hotel to begin self-isolation.

The test result would be known in no more than 24 hours. If it were positive, the passenger would contact the test-and-trace service and complete the two weeks of self-isolation.

Travellers who test negative, the company hopes, will be free to leave their home and simply abide by the rules for the general population.

There are 43 narrowly defined exemptions for travellers, including air crew and diplomats.

Jason Holt, chief executive for Swissport in Western Europe, told the BBC Today programme: “This would be the 44th, but among those exemptions this is the only one to say that you are Covid-negative.

“So it’s a very safe way to manage the quarantine.

“We’ve approached government and said, ‘would you consider this if we were able to demonstrate, through a trial, demonstrate that it would work?’

“The aviation sector, which is what this trial is about, would get on its feet. We need to have passengers having confidence that they can travel, and not be quarantined when the come back even if they’re not carrying the virus.

“The quarantine would be a win-win. The quarantine would remain in place, so we’re not undermining government policy.”

Many locations already offer voluntary tests on arrival.

Arriving travellers at Vienna airport have, for the past two months, been offered the option to take a €190 (£166) test to avoid quarantine.

Jersey airport in the Channel Islands is the only place in the British Isles that has a testing programme as an alternative to 14 days of self-isolation.

Travellers touching down on the island can agree to be tested for Covid-19 on the date of arrival. They must undergo subsequent tests four days and seven days after arrival before they are considered to be completely clear.

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