The introduction of a coronavirus testing regime at British airports would not impair the NHS’s ability to conduct widespread testing, according to the private sector sponsor of a programme that has so far failed to secure government backing.
Sky News has been passed a letter sent to Matt Hancock, the health secretary, by the boss of Collinson, an airport lounge operator which has helped to devise plans for a passenger-testing scheme at Heathrow Airport.
In it, David Evans, Collinson's joint chief executive, urged Mr Hancock to endorse a system that he said could conduct at least 24,500 tests every day.
"While we understand the high demand, difficulty getting tests, and general negative media coverage around COVID-19 testing might have made government ministers reluctant to also move forward with airport testing, we'd argue that it's more pertinent than ever that you do so," he wrote.
"It is clearer now than ever that we will be living with this virus for some time, and so it is imperative that we find measures to both protect public health but also not put undue demand on businesses which provide employment to so many Britons."
Mr Evans said the programme it had drawn up with Swissport, the ground-handler which has cut thousands of jobs since the start of the pandemic, involved "private sector tests, and the capacity for them will in no way take away from the number available for use within the NHS or in the public testing centres across the country".
The Collinson boss also said that its ability to "flex" the workload of the laboratories it would use meant that its "set-up could even be used to support the NHS with its current capacity challenges".
"We have trained medical staff ready to be redeployed into airport testing and have trained operational staff ready to support the effective and timely processing of tests, should you give us the go ahead to run a trial," he added.
Despite pleas from aviation bosses, ministers have appeared sceptical about the likely efficacy of an airport-based testing regime.
The industry has been brought to its knees by the coronavirus crisis, with tens of thousands of jobs already axed by airport operators, airlines and support services groups.
John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow's boss has described testing as "the lifeline that the UK's aviation sector needs to get back on its feet".
"Without this, our first class aviation sector risks becoming second class, giving Britain's competitive advantage to others," he said this month.
Earlier this week, a group of business associations including the CBI, wrote to Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, to beg the government to back such a regime.