Heathrow Seeks Airport Virus Tests to Replace Quarantines

A man sits wearing a face shield in the at Heathrow Airport arrivals area in London on June 8, the first day of new rules that people arriving in Britain from overseas will have to quarantine themselves for 14 days to help stop the spread of coronavirus. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AFP) — London’s Heathrow airport on Wednesday urged the government to create a coronavirus testing program for travelers to replace quarantines, as it revealed more than $1.3 billion in losses so far this year.

The air hub, usually the busiest in Europe, said it had recorded a pre-tax loss of $1.4 billion in the first six months of the year, as the pandemic decimates the aviation sector.

Revenues halved year-on-year while passenger numbers dropped by 96% in the second quarter, as air travel came to a virtual standstill due to Covid-19 lockdowns around the world, it said.

“Today’s results should serve as a clarion call for the government — the U.K. needs a passenger testing regime and fast,” chief executive John Holland-Kaye said in a statement.

“Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.”

Heathrow has been among the critics of the British government’s controversial weekend decision to quarantine all travelers arriving from Spain, due to a recent spike in virus cases there.

It follows the introduction this month of a so-called traffic light quarantine system, in which passengers from countries deemed high-risk, including the United States, are ordered to self-isolate for 14 days.

Critics would like the U.K. to follow the lead of France and Germany and screen passengers from such places.

“Testing offers a way to safely open up travel and trade to some of the U.K.’s biggest markets which currently remain closed,” Holland-Kaye said. 

“Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing, if the U.K. doesn’t act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended the latest quarantine moves, warning “swift and decisive” action was needed as Europe sees a second wave of the virus.

Officials are thought to be weary of an airport testing system because they fear it will miss people who have contracted the virus but are yet to display symptoms.

Heathrow, which is owned by a consortium led by Spanish construction giant Ferrovial, said it expects a gradual recovery in air travel but that passenger volumes would still be down more than 60% from last year.

In response the hub has cut its operating costs by at least $389 million and canceled or delayed more than $843 million in projects. 

The airport, which directly employs 7,000 staff, has already begun voluntary redundancies and reduced its management by a third. 

Around 76,000 people work at Heathrow, employed by approximately 400 companies, including airlines.

Meanwhile, its controversial plan to build a third runway is on hold for at least two years amid an ongoing legal battle.

Environmental campaigners in February won a court case, arguing that the government had failed to take into account its own climate change commitments in the decision.

Heathrow has appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court.

© Agence France-Presse

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