• Passengers flying from Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy first to have option of rapid Covid test prior to checking in – costing a hefty £80

By Andrew Atkinson

Passengers flying from Heathrow to Hong Kong and Italy on October 20, will be the first to have the option of paying for a rapid Covid test prior to checking in – costing a hefty £80.

The test result is guaranteed within an hour. The aim is to help people travelling to destinations – where proof of a negative result is required upon arrival. Some countries classify the UK as being at risk, which means UK travellers face increased restrictions.

The authorities in Hong Kong now require people to show they have a negative test result, taken within 72 hours of a flight from London.

The rapid saliva swab, which is available at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 5, is known as a Lamp – Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification  test – offered by British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific.

“For business passengers £80 is probably quite competitive, but we’ve certainly said to the government in terms of introducing a test on arrival in the UK anything from £50-£60 would be better,” said Tim Alderslade, chief executive of the aviation trade body Airlines UK.

A Lamp test is quicker than the PCR test, widely used in the NHS, due to the sample not needing to be sent to a laboratory.

Collinson, the company behind the initiative at Heathrow, said that the Lamp test is slightly less sensitive than the PCR test. The Lamp test is considered to be much better than another rapid option, being the antigen test.

Collinson’s chief executive David Evans said: “The health screening was quickly becoming another stage of the airport experience.

“Passengers would only have to turn up at the airport an hour earlier. And testing would help give people confidence to travel, because flights would be Covid-secure. It starts to make travel easier again.”

Collinson, which partners with Swissport, hopes testing will help open up routes between the UK and other countries.

People arriving in Italy from the UK must prove they had a negative coronavirus test before departure, or take a test on arrival at an airport in Italy.

The type of test offered at Heathrow is not sufficient for people travelling to some destinations, including Greece, Cyprus, the Bahamas and Bermuda, which currently require proof of a negative PCR test, requiring analysis in a laboratory.

The new testing facility at Heathrow is not for passengers flying into the airport.

That means it will not have any immediate impact on the UK’s two-week travel quarantine for people arriving from at risk countries.

At present passengers returning to the UK from Spain face 14 days isolation.

Collinson set up a separate testing facility in arrivals at Heathrow over the summer. That facility has not been used by passengers, because the government has not given its backing to testing people on arrival.

Ministers have promised they will give their formal approval to the idea of people paying for a test after a week of quarantine, to avoid the full two weeks in November.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps confirmed the government was in talks with the US Department of Homeland Security about a different type of system, possibly involving multiple tests.

The government is looking at another system, under which people could take one test, two or three days before they fly into the UK, and undergo another test upon arrival.

That could make it possible for someone arriving in the UK from an at risk country – including Spain – to avoid quarantine altogether.

It is not known when that type of system would be available – due to the requirements of international co-operation.