UK. Heathrow Airport’s workforce has stepped up and taken part in three rapid point-of-care COVID-19 testing trials, in an attempt to revive the country’s beleaguered aviation and tourism sectors.

The findings from the trials are being evaluated and will be shared with Government as Ministers consider how testing could provide a safe alternative to blanket quarantine in certain circumstances.

The long-term aim of the trial is to understand whether these tests could be quickly and efficiently conducted on large numbers of people outside a laboratory setting and to ensure they are accurate enough to be delivered in an airport environment.

The trials evaluate three different testing methods for accuracy, user experience and practicality outside of a lab environment.

They sit alongside Heathrow’s capability to test passengers on arrival with a Swissport and Collinson site ready to swing into action, again after final decisions from Government have been given.

In colleague testing trials, Heathrow worked with:

  • Geneme has proposed a rapid RT-LAMP test (below) which uses a sample collected from a nasal or throat swab to provide results within 30 minutes. It uses a secure application from Yoti that simplifies the capture, processing and result sharing of COVID-19 tests, without needing paperwork. Secure spoof-proof results can be sent to an individual’s phone using the free Yoti app or to a specified email.
  • Mologic has put forward a lateral flow solution (below) which uses a saliva sample on a test device, which provides a visually read result in ten minutes.

  • I-Abra is working with the airport to trial the Virolens testing device (below) to see whether its machine learning holographic microscope, backed by Dell/Intel and partnered with TT Electronics plc for design and manufacturing, can quickly (in under 30 seconds) and accurately identify whether a person is carrying the disease through a self-administered test.

Colleagues were given the option to choose which of the solutions they trialled. However, as the results of these initial trials are only advisory until the methodologies are proven to work in a non-clinical setting, participating colleagues also took a Government-approved, privately provided PCR test, administered by Collinson Assistance Services Ltd. to compare their results to Government-accredited tests.

John Holland-Kaye: “Every passenger travelling through Heathrow would have the confidence to know the airport is COVID-free”

Earlier this month, the Government unveiled plans to trial new rapid coronavirus tests across NHS hospitals, care homes and labs to understand how these alternative methods could help to increase testing capacity in preparation for winter.

Heathrow’s own trials will feed into the Government’s findings after being independently evaluated by a subgroup of academics that are part of CONDOR. It is hoped that these findings will then be used to support the recovery across sectors.

CONDOR is working to accelerate the real-world use of COVID-19 diagnostics and their findings will help to identify the most accurate testing methods. Results of the study are being sent to the Department for Health and Social Care to support the decision making process.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “Testing is the lifeline that the UK’s aviation sector needs to get back on its feet. We’ve put some of the most cutting-edge rapid testing technologies into action at Heathrow to see which offers the best solution. If we can find a test that is accurate, gets a result within a matter of minutes, is cost-effective and gets the Government green light, we could have the potential to introduce wide-scale testing at the airport.

“Every passenger travelling through Heathrow would have the confidence to know the airport is COVID-free, boosting demand and getting Global Britain back to safely trading and travelling with the world again. Without this, our first-class aviation sector risks becoming second class, giving Britain’s competitive advantage to others.”

These trials further complement Swissport and Collinson’s proposed PCR testing-on-arrival pilot, the facility for which was unveiled last week. The pilot, which is subject to Government approval, could provide passengers arriving from countries with higher infection rates with a reduced quarantine period if they test negative for COVID-19 twice, during the proposed two-test process.

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