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Airport testing has been a point of contention in recent months, but with the Government set to unveil its full plans for a new coronavirus detection regime at airports, good news may be ahead for the travel industry. Industry insiders, including Heathrow Airport CEO John Holland-Kaye, have been urging the Government to consider tests, lessening the need for currently detrimental 14-day quarantine rules.
Now, it seems their calls have been answered.
In recent days, there has been some speculation as to whether a single or two-step test will be most beneficial.
Both would enable arrivals to endure a shorter quarantine period than the current one being enforced.
According to one expert, both will be absolutely vital in helping to revive international travel.
Avi Lasarow is the CEO of Prenetics, the company currently providing COVID testing for the UK sport and cultural sectors as well as assisting with pilot testing for airports.
Speaking exclusively to Express.co.uk, Mr Lasarow described airport testing as key for reinstating confidence in travel.
“The travel industry, like all other industries, needs its customers to feel as safe as possible while travelling,” he said.
Already countries such as Germany have begun to enforce airport testing, much to its benefit.
Since August 8, mandatory tests have been issued to arrivals from high-risk countries, with Frankfurt Airport having carried out more than 120,000.
“Some countries are able to decrease the time spent in quarantine, and therefore testing on arrival from any destination provides a sense of comfort for both travellers coming into the country and also entering the aircraft,” pointed out Mr Lasarow.
“As the airport is a major hub of movement, it can be clearly used as a ‘point of intersection’ as part of a wider mass testing programme, which could bring long term benefits.”
It is suggested that airport test results could be applied to the UK’s current “track and trace” system, to help get Britons flying again.
In fact, if used correctly, the expert believes there are “no downsides”.
But amid ongoing “track and trace” glitches, if data is not integrated appropriately, airport testing could prove a flop.
Mr Lasarow states: “We think that testing generally on a regular basis is important and do not see a downside, as long as the testing is fully integrated into the Government track and trace application.”
Luckily, one UK airport has proven how combining “track and trace” with airport testing can work wonders.
In Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, over 80,000 inbound travellers have already been tested.
“Since borders re-opened on 3 July, we have tested over 80,000 inbound travellers and every day we are seeing the test results turned round in a shorter amount of time – it’s now averaging almost 12 hours. 64 active infections have been identified through the inbound travels screening since 3 July which is a rate of 0.07percent,” Matt Thomas, CEO Ports of Jersey told Express.co.uk.
“As an Island, connectivity is critically important to the way we live our lives and to our economy.”
Jersey is currently using a traffic light system to determine the “risk” posed by arrivals from specific countries.
“Green” arrivals must undergo a test at the airport, but do not need to quarantine.
They are, however, asked to limit social contact until their results come back.
“Amber” arrivals must take a test at the airport before quarantining for five days. They then undergo a second test.
Finally, “Red” arrivals must endure the full 14-days quarantine, as well as taking a test.
“The island has worked tirelessly to re-open its borders, in a way that is both safe for everyone while providing a welcoming experience for arriving passengers,” continued Mr Thomas.
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“The testing system has led Jersey to have the highest level of testing in Europe and one of the lowest rates of positive results based on data compiled by European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control.”
Tests are provided to passengers free of charge.
Though this costs the airport, Mr Thomas says it is “far outweighed” by the “economic impact” a lack of connectivity would have.
When it comes to how UK airports are considering the financial impact of tests, Mr Lasarow explains: “The testing could either be part of the ticket cost to travel or alternatively, airlines and Government could subsidise the testing for the benefit of all.
“It is widely reported that a mass testing strategy integrated with airports and other points of intersection could have a positive impact on the economy as a means to getting Britain back to work.”
Though it is not yet known who would bear the cost of UK airport testing, the decision is considered to be a “real step forward” and one that would be welcomed by holidaymakers.
Jo McClinktock, global brand director for Skyscanner said: “This could be a real step forward for UK travel, and something we believe would be received positively by travellers: in one of our latest surveys over 80 percent of travellers stated they would be more likely to travel with testing in place.
“Peace of mind is key: the possible introduction of this critical safety measure at the UK’s busiest airport would be a great step forward in taking the complex but necessary steps to reinvigorate travel.
“Testing would bolster traveller confidence by offering reassurances on passenger safety while removing barriers to travel, should this result in the possible reduction or removal of quarantine.”
Though tests may carry some cost for either travellers or airports, Jersey’s Ports CEO stressed: “It’s vital that we continue to follow these processes to control the number of cases of COVID-19 and ensure Jersey continues to have one of the lowest positive results in Europe.”
Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps is currently said to be working with experts to decide between either a single or two-step PCR test.
However, the minister has pointed out a concern currently being investigated.
Shapps said that the problem with only testing people at the airport is that the PCR tests only pick up roughly seven percent of asymptomatic cases.
“The next stage is to enable testing, which people sometimes wrongly think is a very straightforward thing – ‘Why don’t you just test people at the airport? If you know they’re clear, let people in, job done,’” Shapps said.
“The answer is that in someone who is asymptomatic, not displaying any symptoms, that won’t find a very large proportion of cases.
“In fact, the studies show that if you check somebody on the first day that they arrive, you will probably just find seven percent of people who actually do have the virus.”
This is why it is crucial that the right decision is made when it comes to the type of test enforced.
According to Mr Lasarow, another vital factor of airport tests is their efficiency – particularly during busy holiday seasons.
“There are many technologies that are fast emerging, but we believe that to achieve mass testing at airports, the technology needs to be fast, accurate and also simple use,” he said.
“Current trials using LAMP technology in various locations seem to be the way forward.
“The collection methodology could be a swirl, gargle and spit method which not only is easier to do but coupled with a fast point of care test would make it more usable.”
Whatever the type of test deemed most appropriate, airports already enforcing testing are already reaping the positives.
“The impact of the pandemic on aviation has been significant. It is critically important that we are able to provide confidence to passengers that it is safe to travel,” said Jersey’s Mr Thomas.
“The success of the testing system has not gone unnoticed. London Heathrow Airport – which announced the opening of a dedicated testing facility at Terminal 2 in late-August – has partially modelled its approach on Jersey.”
In fact, in the weeks to come, experts believe airport testing could be the “crucial” lifeline the aviation industry needs.
Mr Lasalow concluded: “In the absence of a vaccine, testing is crucial and naturally provides a level of assurance as a means to keep people moving.”
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