Passengers arriving at Heathrow airport from “red list” countries like the US will be able to pay for Covid-19 tests to beat quarantine, under a pilot scheme expected to be backed by the Department for Transport.
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, has signalled his support for Covid-19 testing as a way to revive flying after it was decimated by the pandemic and is seeking to agree international standards that could allow quarantine-free air travel.
The Daily Telegraph has established that 21 countries including Austria, Iceland, Jersey, Madeira, Thailand, Singapore, Barbados, Jamaica and Japan have already introduced airport tests that can allow some passengers to avoid quarantine if they are negative for Covid-19.
Under the plan, arrivals at Heathrow would have to pay £150 for the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) based swab tests, as used by the NHS and administered in a clinic airside at the airport.
The 90-second test, which takes swabs from throat and nose, produces results in between seven and 24 hours and has a 100 percent accuracy rate, according to medical trials.
They would be expected to quarantine until they got their results, which, provided they were negative, would then exempt them from self-isolating for the remainder of the 14 days. Only arrivals taking the tests and getting an all-clear would be exempt.
The companies behind the scheme, Swissports, a ground-handling company, and Collinson Group, which provides medical and security services, are seeking a change in the Covid-19 regulations to exempt those declared free of the disease from quarantine, in order to launch the pilot.
Mr Shapps told MPs that he was considering introducing testing at airports and promised an update by the next review of the quarantine regulations at the end of July. “We do believe it is important to be able to provide international standards that will include specific types of testing,” he said.
Sources said testing was the next step after agreeing 74 “low risk” countries and destinations where returning holidaymakers and passengers could enter the UK without the 14-day quarantine.
Dr Simon Worrell, global medical director of Collinson Group, said: “It’s the right thing for the right time. When sufficient numbers of people are vaccinated, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief. This is an interim industry-led measure to get people flying and increase trade and tourism.”
It could offer a route to open up travel to “red list'' countries like the US, despite its surging rates of Coronavirus. Last year the US accounted for 11 per cent of all visitors to the UK.
It is proposed the trial would last for around a fortnight, with approximately 500 people tested a day. Once complete, the testing programme could be rolled out to other UK airports.
John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of Heathrow, said: “The Government made a significant step forward last week by removing quarantine for visitors from many countries.
“But we still need a solution that safely allows passengers to travel to and from higher risk countries. This trial with Swissport and Collinson will provide a much-needed alternative to quarantine for those arriving passengers.”
Gloria Guevara Manzo, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council, said testing was a key component for the recovery of the industry.
'Testing and contact tracing is the solution,” she said. It came as Greece announced that UK holidaymakers will be able to fly directly to the country from next week.
A spokesman for the government said it had decided to permit UK flights from July 15 "in cooperation with the British Government and after the recommendation of experts".
Greece reopened its borders to international visitors on July 1 but continued to ban flights from the UK due to concern about importing coronavirus cases.
British nationals usually make more than three million visits to Greece each year and are a large proportion of the country's inbound holidaymakers.