Heathrow launches Covid-19 quick testing trials

The workforce at London Heathrow has been taking part in three rapid point of care Covid-19 testing trials.

The trials are part of a wider campaign from the airport to encourage the government to move from blanket quarantines to a more focused approach to managing the coronavirus.

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 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 of 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.

These trials sit alongside capability to test passengers on arrival with a Swissport and Collinson site ready to swing into action, should the government change tack.

In colleague testing trials, Heathrow worked with:

  • Geneme has proposed a rapid RT-LAMP test 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 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 their Virolens testing device 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.

Staff at Heathrow 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 to compare their results to accredited tests.

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 tests could help to increase testing capacity in preparation for winter.

Heathrow’s own trials will feed into the government 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.

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Heathrow chief executive, 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 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.”

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