Heathrow boss pleads with Boris Johnson to begin pre-departure tests for travellers

The boss of Britain’s busiest airport says the latest round of travel bans has “effectively stopped” international travel.

In a letter to the prime minister, John Holland-Kaye writes: “Over 60 countries have closed their borders to passengers from the UK.

“A previously successful UK industry that was ranked third in the world is reeling with tens of thousands of jobs at stake.”

In the letter, which has been published on the Heathrow website, the airport’s chief executive reminds the prime minister that travel bans began within hours of the announcement on Saturday detailing Tier 4 restrictions for London and the South East.

Mr Holland-Kaye demands the unilateral introduction of a testing regime, with a PCR test 72 hours before departure and an additional rapid Lamp or antigen test at the airport.

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“The dramatic deterioration of the situation means that the Government must not delay any longer,” he writes.

“Like many countries around the world which require pre-departures tests for aviation, the UK needs to quickly and unilaterally introduce this model, to demonstrate to the world it is serious about protecting their borders as much its own.

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“This country is a trading, island nation reliant on its doors being open to connect with markets across the world.  That is why I have been calling for a pre-departures testing regime as the basis for a common international standard to safely keep borders and economies open – the choice does not have to be between public health and the economy, testing can deliver for both.”

Heathrow began calling for pre-flight testing in the spring, and has been conducting tests in clinics at the two functioning terminals – 2 and 5 – since October.

Passengers flying to Heathrow from some US airports aboard American Airlines, British Airways and United are undergoing testing before take-off, but the procedure has no effect in reducing the required 10 days of self-isolation.

The Independent has asked the government for a response. 

On Tuesday the home secretary, Priti Patel, wrongly claimed: “We ask passengers to take tests before they get on aeroplanes.”

Ministers have long argued that testing before departure is a waste of time because of the number of asymptomatic cases that would be undiscovered.

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