How does airport testing actually work?

Tests are being carried out at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport - Getty
Tests are being carried out at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – Getty

The Government is coming under increasing pressure to introduce airport testing in order to drop the travel quarantine, which is currently imposed on arrivals from countries such as France, Spain and Croatia.

Today, Heathrow Airport said it is “ready to go” on testing for coronavirus at the airport but is waiting on the Government to give it the all-clear, after passenger numbers plunged in August.

With support from MPs, industry leaders and polling of the general public, Telegraph Travel has launched a campaign, Test4Travel, urging the Government to introduce airport testing.

At least 30 countries offer or accept Covid-19 tests at airports, but what, exactly, does the testing process look like?

Telegraph writer Simon Parker, who has recently travelled to the Portuguese island of Madeira, said: “Within 15 minutes of touching down on the island of Madeira I had my luggage on a trolley and was stood in an air-conditioned queue, about 150 passengers deep.

“Smartphones in hand, we were syphoned into two lines by tourist officials in surgical face masks and visors. There were those that had received a negative test at home within the past 72 hours – they could proceed to their hotels as usual. And those (like me) that needed testing.

“The ‘Test on Arrival’ queue was significantly longer – at least 100 strong. We were asked to wear masks, observe social distancing as much as possible, and submit details into an online form. Once complete, we waited for testing – the results of which would correspond to QR codes on our phones.

“It took about an hour to reach the front of the queue – to a kind of portacabin broken into separate testing booths. I had my phone scanned, then a swab thrust into the back of my throat and deep inside my nose. From then, I was free to go. I took a taxi to my hotel, ate a room service lunch, watched a movie and took a nap. By dinner time (8 hours after the test) I was alerted by email that my result was negative.

“I’m now three days into my stay on the island and each hotel asks to see my negative test. It’s reassuring to know that I – categorically – don’t have Covid – and that I’m not carrying it around a fragile island community asymptomatically.”

Julia Hammond, who travelled to Iceland in late August, said: “To enter Iceland I could either quarantine for 14 days or take two tests 4–6 days apart (the rules have since changed; travellers now have the choice of either quarantine for 14 days or two tests with a 5 day quarantine in between). All Covid-related information is on one dedicated website which made it easy to make an informed choice.

“I prepaid for the Covid testing online (9000 ISK, about £50) and had to show the barcode receipt to airport staff. There was a bank of cubicles each with a tester in full PPE. A throat swab was taken first and then another from my nose, which made my eyes water. Test done, I could leave the airport and begin my holiday. The result – fortunately negative – came through by text message about four hours later, with a follow up email explaining next steps.

“I was supposed to receive my barcode by email but it didn’t come through in time. Because I was so far from Reykjavik, the test centre closed early and shut at weekends. Rather than wait until day seven, I went anyway and was able to take the test just by showing my passport. I was told to expect the second notification to take a bit longer to come through but got the result within 24 hours.

“I found the whole process straightforward and transparent. If we could scale this up for the UK I feel it would be preferable to our current quarantine strategy but I’m not sure how well it would work for larger numbers.”

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