Heathrow chief calls on United Kingdom government to introduce passenger Covid-19 tests

Travellers arriving from Madrid at the Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport REUTERS  Henry Nicholls

"The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast", Heathrow chief executive officer John Holland-Kaye said.

Testing passengers for Covid-19 on arrival in the United Kingdom is 'not a silver bullet, the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, has said, as Downing Street continues to come under pressure over quarantine plans.

The CEO of Europe's busiest airport John Holland-Kaye warned that the United Kingdom would be losing a game of global "quarantine roulette" if the government fails to take action.

In response the hub has cut its operating costs by at least £300 million and cancelled or paused over £650 million in projects.

The tourism industry was plunged into disarray when the government advised against all non-essential travel to Spain on Saturday and, with just a few hours' warning, imposed a 14-day quarantine for people arriving from the country.

Heathrow has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

The transport boss suggested arrivals to the United Kingdom could be tested at an airport and then receive a second test at a health facility five to eight days later to reduce the quarantine time.

They claim that establishing an alternative to quarantine for Covid-free passengers from other countries should be a priority for government, saying that pre-flight testing for passengers from high risk countries will allow long haul flying to resume, which they say is critical for the UK's economic recovery.

"There's not a silver bullet of just testing immediately at the border", said Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden.

Experts have said a one-off test would not be effective as the virus can incubate for up to two weeks.

The test would add significant cost to the cost of travel, with Heathrow's biggest operator British Airways selling European tickets from about 50 pounds and tickets to the United States from about 400 pounds.

Airports are also suffering.

Operators such as Jet2 and TUI also announced the cancellation of their vacation packages for the coming weeks, while Heathrow explained that the number of passengers at its airport decreased 96 per cent between April and June compared to a year ago. Nonetheless, the airport said it had enough cash to last until at least June 2021 with no revenue.

The letter, seen by Reuters and dated Wednesday, said that "the lack of a more targeted approach to quarantine and travel advice will simply further damage the travel and hospitality sector by creating uncertainty for both inbound and outbound visitors".

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