Rapid outbound Covid-19 testing for passengers has been launched at London's Heathrow Airport, designed to return results in an hour, in an effort to re-open restricted routes and boost traffic for airlines.
The tests were launched on Tuesday in conjunction with the airport, IAG's British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific, initially for flights to Hong Kong, where incoming passengers must be able to show proof of a negative test.
"(Testing) is a key part of the solution for getting travel moving again. There's a lot of support to make sure that we can get these things up and running, and moving quickly," said David Evans, joint chief executive of medical travel firm Collinson, which is running the tests with airport services company Swissport.
The firms have also set up an inbound testing facility at Heathrow, though it is yet to be approved for use by the government.
Britain is looking at ways to reduce the 14-day quarantine period which applies to some arriving passengers, using a mix of Covid-19 testing and self-isolation. A taskforce looking at the issue will report back in November.
"I think the government's been too slow to listen to the evolving medical evidence," Evans told Reuters.
Collinson use a so-called "LAMP" test that can produce results in around about 60 minutes, much faster than the PCR tests in use which can take more than a day to be processed in labs.
Evans said he expected outbound testing to be rolled out for Italy and other European destinations in the coming days and weeks.
"As with security screening when it came in... this will be something that we're going to be living with for the next six to twelve months, and perhaps beyond," he said.