Heathrow tells the UK: test passengers or lose ‘quarantine roulette’

LONDON (Reuters) – Heathrow Airport, once the busiest airport in Europe, called on Britain to urgently support a passenger testing regime, warning that without one, the country’s strict quarantine rules will stop travel, stop the economy and will cause more job losses.

Passengers on international flights arrive at Heathrow Airport following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Great Britain, July 29, 2020. REUTERS / Toby Melville

Heathrow said that to avoid losing a global “quarantine roulette” game, the government should change its rules to reduce the quarantine from 14 days to around eight days for passengers taking two tests over the course of a week.

The worst public health crisis since the 1918 influenza outbreak has sparked an economic crisis across the globe, and, just as the travel industry restarted, there is now fear of a second wave of closings after Britain quickly imposed a quarantine to travelers from Spain.

“The UK needs a rapid and passenger testing regime,” said Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye. “Without it, Britain is only playing a quarantine roulette game.”

The cost of getting a coronavirus test at the airport would be around 150 pounds ($ 195) per person and the passenger is expected to pay, Holland-Kaye told Reuters on Wednesday.

While admitting it wasn’t cheap, he said that consumers and business travelers would be prepared to pay, and would help Britain protect its aviation industry, which has already announced more than 20,000 job cuts, and facilitate trade.

“We are an island nation, we cannot isolate ourselves from the world for the foreseeable future,” Holland-Kaye told the BBC. “We have to find a way to keep people safe from a second wave, but also to make the economy work again.”

There are quarantine rules for arrivals to Britain from the United States, a lucrative market for Heathrow that accounts for 20% of its traffic, as well as other countries such as India and Spain.


In response to criticism from Heathrow, a minister said there was no easy solution to allow quarantine travel from countries with higher infection rates.

“It can be incubated for a period of time, so there is no silver bullet from just testing immediately at the border,” Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden told the BBC.

But Holland-Kaye said the government was receptive to Heathrow’s double testing plan, which needs an agreement that two tests, one on arrival and the other five to eight days later, can reduce the number of days a person spends on quarantine.

“They have certainly come alive in the last few days after Spain’s experience realizing that there must be an alternative,” he said.

Heathrow said it was testing tests with the Swissport and Collinson Group companies and that the system could be up and running in two weeks.

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The test would add significant cost to the cost of the trip, as Heathrow’s largest operator, British Airways, sells European tickets from approximately £ 50 and tickets to the United States from approximately £ 400.

The potential additional cost illustrates the challenge for airlines desperate to fill planes and start making profits again after the pandemic wiped out air travel for months.

Airports are also suffering. Heathrow’s passenger numbers fell 96% in the second quarter as revenue decreased 85%, leading the airport to a loss of £ 1.1bn in the first six months of the year. Despite the loss, the airport said its finances remained solid.

Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alison Williams

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