The travel world is abuzz this morning with news that Heathrow Airport has launched a 60-minute rapid Covid-19 testing program that is set to ‘reopen travel’, offering eager travellers the negative test proof they need to enter many countries.
However, their new testing facility is an opportunity lost by performing a type of test that is not accepted by 99% of the countries Brits can travel to.
The quick LAMP test is a nucleic acid-based test that offers results in 60 minutes, making it faster and cheaper than the gold standard PCR test, however the only destinations that accept nucleic acid-based tests are: Italy, Hong Kong, Hawaii and Honduras.
Since Brits can only enter 3 of these 4 destinations, and still with some restrictions, this effectively renders the new testing facility at Heathrow useless for the average passenger.
Italy, who now requires a test from incoming passengers from the UK, has recently updated their terminology to include “molecular and antigen” testing, in combination with PCR test results, which should cover this new test offered by Heathrow. However, Heathrow is not offering this test for Italy routes just yet, but says it's coming soon.
It’s unknown why Heathrow decided to go with a rapid nucleic based test at this time, other than being faster, cheaper and easier to perform en masse than PCR tests. Rapid tests are getting more accurate by the day, and many agree they are the future for helping travel make a safe comeback, but they are currently not accepted by most countries.
Heathrow may be months ahead of the curve on this one, which can be great for future travel, but essentially futile for today’s travel needs.
In order for Heathrow’s rapid tests to be widely accepted, the entire standard of testing will have to shift all over the world, with countless health ministries all deciding to change their criterion at once.
Until then, only essential travelers permitted to enter Hong Kong can use the service as of today, leaving the vast majority of travelers with no in-airport options for pre-flight testing.
Istanbul has become one of the world leaders in pre-flight testing, even incentivizing travelers to re-route itineraries to plan a layover, all to obtain the negative PCR test results they require.
The IST airport has one of the fastest and most reliable airport PCR testing facilities in the world right now. They are pumping through thousands of tests, all while aiming to deliver accurate results within 4-8 hours to desperate travelers. At a cost of only $33 USD, and same day results available, Istanbul airport has perfected the service of getting passengers the PCR proof they need to enter a litany of destinations.
Heathrow’s LAMP test is now set up at Terminals 2 and 5, has a cost of £80, and aims to provide results within 60 minutes. Passengers that qualify for the test are being asked to book an appointment ahead of time.
Heathrow said it may look to add other types of tests, like antigen-based tests, in the near future, but has not suggested they will add the most demanded and widely accepted PCR tests.
Talks of an air corridor (or air bridge) between New York and London have been circulating lately, but Heathrow's implementation of rapid testing won't help the case in getting the corridor approved. Passengers from the UK are still banned from entering the USA, and it's unlikely that offering rapid tests will change that.
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Disclaimer: Current travel rules and restrictions can change without notice. The decision to travel is ultimately your responsibility. Contact your consulate and/or local authorities to confirm your nationality’s entry and/or any changes to travel requirements before traveling. Travel Off Path does not endorse traveling against government advisories