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London Heathrow Tries Out Rapid COVID-19 Tests

The airport is looking at three methodologies in a series of internal trials to evaluate “accuracy, user experience and practicality”

September 1, 2020

As the global airline industry ramps up its calls for testing as an alternative to blanket quarantines, London’s Heathrow has conducted a series of internal trials of rapid point of care tests meant to detect COVID-19.

The airport worked with three companies, administering the tests to airport staff, to evaluate three tests for “accuracy, user experience and practicality outside of a lab environment.” Sample collection methods and result times were monitored “to determine the most efficient and user-friendly rapid testing method.”

The three companies being evaluated include:

Geneme, which proposes a rapid RT-LAMP test using a sample collected from a nasal or throat swab to provide results within 30 minutes. A secure application from Yoti simplifies the capture, processing and result sharing of tests digitally. Secure spoof-proof results can be sent to an individual’s phone using the free Yoti app or to a specified e-mail.

Mologic offers a lateral flow solution which uses a saliva sample on a test device, which provides a visually read result in 10 minutes.

I-Abra is testing their Virolens device to see whether its machine-learning holographic microscope can quickly (in under 30 seconds) and accurately use a self-administered test to identify whether a person is carrying the disease.

Staff members were given the choice of which test they tried, and were also given a government approved, privately provided PCR test administered by Collinson Assistance Services Ltd, as a control.

“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,” according to a statement from Heathrow.

Heathrow has been working with Collinson and Swissport to build COVID-19 testing facilities at Terminals 2 and 5, looking to persuade government officials to allow an arrivals testing model to replace blanket quarantines.

“Testing is the lifeline that the UK’s aviation sector needs to get back on its feet,” said Heathrow’s CEO John Holland-Kaye. “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.”