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Coronavirus: Airport tests may provide ‘early travel quarantine release’

Passengers arriving at UK airports could soon be able to have the same type of saliva swab test used by the NHS to screen for the coronavirus.

Companies planning a trial of the scheme hope a negative result will allow early release from the government’s 14-day travel quarantine.

People will have to pay around £140 for a test booked online before travel.

The government said the quarantine system aims to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a second wave.

BBC News has been told that a trial is expected to begin in a couple of weeks at a major UK airport.

The aim is to initially test 500 passengers a day.

Under the proposals, passengers would visit an airport clinic after immigration to take a test and self-isolate at home until they received the result.

A negative result could take as little as five hours. However, the aim will be to notify every participant within 24 hours.


Jason Holt, boss of ground-handling firm Swissport UK, which is one of two companies involved, described the scheme as a “win-win”.

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“We accept that the quarantine is in place,” he said. “This will complement it and help put UK aviation back on its feet.

“If they [the passenger] were Covid-negative we would ask the government to consider them to be free from the quarantine and they would have 13 days-plus avoiding the quarantine.”

The Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) swab test being used is the type in operation at NHS facilities across the UK.

Nurses will carry out the airport swab tests at clinics run by medical firm Collinson.

The company says the trial is about “modifying” the quarantine.

“People will be able to go on holiday again”, Dr Simon Worrell, Collinson’s Global Medical Director, said.

Medical staff wait to conduct tests on passengers arriving at Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport in AthensGreece is among the countries to introduce swab testing for passengers arriving at its airports

Dr Worrell hopes it will bring “a degree of normality” back and show people “that we’ve really turned the corner”.

The two companies are in discussions with several UK airports and the government.

However ministers have yet to confirm people who receive a “negative” result won’t have to self-isolate for the remainder of their two weeks.

“The critical thing is to get government approval”, said Scott Sunderman, managing director of medical and security assistance at Collinson.

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The Department for Transport said all passengers arriving in the UK – including UK nationals – are being asked to provide an address where they will self-isolate for 14 days.

“As the Home Secretary made clear when she announced these measures, they will be kept under review and informed by science to keep us all safe,” a spokesperson said.

Collinson said the testing could be scaled-up after the pilot. It believes it could, at some point in the future, potentially test “hundreds of thousands” of people a day arriving into the UK.

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