Heathrow Airport boss urges Government to fast track 20-second coronavirus test

Imogen Braddick
·3-min read

The boss of Heathrow Airport is urging the Government to fast track a coronavirus test which gives results in 20 seconds.

It comes after Boris Johnson announced plans for mass testing under so-called Operation Moonshot, in which millions of people could be tested every day so they could "behave in a way that was exactly as in the world before Covid".

The new Virolens test, which is said to provide results in 20 seconds, launched on Wednesday following a three-week trial at Heathrow Airport.

The test has been developed by British start-up company iAbra and is about to embark on clinical trials in order for it to be certified for medical use.

The company said the test does not need to be administered by healthcare professionals and is repeatable, with each screening device capable of carrying out hundreds of tests per day.

The current gold standard polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that are conducted in labs use swabs and need to be processed at different temperatures meaning it takes longer to get results.

John Holland-Kaye, chief executive at Heathrow Airport, said: “Testing for Covid-19 is the lifeline that the UK economy needs to get back on its feet.

"Currently the bottleneck is the availability of the Government’s preferred PCR testing labs – rapid point of care tests solve that problem.

Travellers arrive at Heathrow Airport during the coronavirus pandemic (PA)
Travellers arrive at Heathrow Airport during the coronavirus pandemic (PA)

"I have experienced iAbra’s test myself, alongside the PCR test – it is quicker and cheaper, and potentially more accurate.

"We urge the Government to fast track this technology to protect the economy and help save millions of jobs in this country."

Mass testing will allow people to lead more normal lives, Boris Johnson said at the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday, as he pledged to increase testing capacity to 500,000 tests a day by the end of October.

Outlining the “ambitious” plans, he said: "We think, we hope, we believe that new types of tests which are simple, quick and scaleable will become available and they use swabs, or saliva, and can turn around, results in 90, or even 20 minutes.

"Crucially, it should be possible to deploy these tests on a far bigger scale than any country has yet achieved, literally millions of tests, being processed every single day."

But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the technology for the Government’s "moonshot" plan of 10 million Covid-19 tests a day does not yet exist.

Speaking on Sky News, he said: "We know this isn’t simple to achieve, but we hope it will be possible through technology and new tests to have a test which works by not having to return the sample to a lab.”

He added: "This is technology that, to be perfectly blunt, requires further development – there isn’t a certified test in the world that does this but there are people that are working on prototypes."

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