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Virgin Atlantic launches pre-departure Covid-19 testing trial on Heathrow to Barbados flights

Virgin Atlantic has become the latest major airline to launch a Covid-19 testing trial.

British Airways, American Airlines, United and Delta have also launched testing trial programmes for the virus.

From December 9, Virgin Atlantic customers flying to Barbados or onwards to Antigua and Grenada on selected flights will receive ‘a free, rapid, point-of-care, pre-departure antigen test at London Heathrow Airport’.

Virgin Atlantic has become the latest major airline to launch a Covid-19 testing trial

Virgin Atlantic is calling for the introduction of a robust pre-departure regime ‘to swiftly and safely replace the new UK “test and release” scheme commencing on December 15’.

The airline said that the purpose of the trial, which will last for six weeks, is to gather vital data on the logistics and effectiveness of pre-departure testing.

The trial initiative ‘will further demonstrate the deliverability of a pre-departure testing regime at scale, offering real-world data for these popular leisure routes’.

In a statement, Virgin Atlantic added: ‘Industry-led trials at London Heathrow support the latest independent analysis by Oxera and Edge Health which shows that all forms of passenger testing would be more effective than the current 14-day quarantine.

‘The UK Government confirmed plans this week for a “test and release” strategy for international arrivals to England, ending quarantine after five days and presentation of a negative Covid-19 test. However, the Government has said it will evolve its approach as it gathers further evidence on its effectiveness. Anonymous data from the Virgin Atlantic trial will be accumulated to inform academic work to influence UK policy-making.’

From December 9, Virgin Atlantic customers flying to Barbados or onwards to Antigua and Grenada on selected flights will receive 'a free, rapid, point-of-care, pre-departure antigen test at London Heathrow Airport'

From December 9, Virgin Atlantic customers flying to Barbados or onwards to Antigua and Grenada on selected flights will receive ‘a free, rapid, point-of-care, pre-departure antigen test at London Heathrow Airport’

The simple nasal and throat swab in Virgin Atlantic’s trial will be administered up to one hour 45 minutes before departure by a registered nurse at the Pre-Departure Collinson and Swissport Terminal 2 facility, taking no more than five minutes.

Customers will receive their digital and printed test result within less than 30 minutes, proceeding to security and boarding following confirmation of a negative result.

The customers included in the trial will be contacted by Virgin Atlantic in the coming days with information on the pre-departure test.

Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic, said: ‘The new UK test to release scheme is a vital first step in re-opening the skies, but we must now move rapidly towards a single test pre-departure regime to ensure the survival of UK aviation and protect 500,000 jobs reliant on the sector.

‘Our Heathrow-Barbados testing trial, in close collaboration with partners including Collinson, London Heathrow and the Barbados Ministry of Tourism & International Transport, will gather vital data on the efficacy of a pre-departure testing regime to safely replace quarantine. We hope that testing will also lead the way for US borders to open to UK travellers.’

The simple nasal and throat swab in Virgin Atlantic's trial will be administered up to one hour 45 minutes before departure by a registered nurse at the Pre-Departure Collinson and Swissport Terminal 2 facility, taking no more than five minutes

The simple nasal and throat swab in Virgin Atlantic’s trial will be administered up to one hour 45 minutes before departure by a registered nurse at the Pre-Departure Collinson and Swissport Terminal 2 facility, taking no more than five minutes

David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson, said: ‘Airport testing is critical to getting the travel ecosystem moving again, which is why we opened the first and second UK pre-departure testing centres earlier this year. We’re excited to partner with Virgin Atlantic on these lateral flow antigen test trials as we continue to lead in this space.’

 The new UK test to release scheme is a vital first step in re-opening the skies, but we must now move rapidly towards a single test pre-departure regime to ensure the survival of UK aviation and protect 500,000 jobs reliant on the sector

Shai Weiss, Chief Executive Officer, Virgin Atlantic

Dr Anton Best, Chief Medical Officer, Barbados Ministry of Health, said:  ‘The Government of Barbados has worked assiduously over the past nine months to manage the pandemic here effectively. Through comprehensive, dynamic and evidence-informed public health protocols, we have continued to ensure the safety of our community. This has made us attractive to discerning travellers who are seeking to safely work or vacation in our island paradise during this challenging time. We therefore support this initiative which underscores the importance of safe and responsible travel, and thank Virgin Atlantic for their continued partnership.’

The first Virgin Atlantic flight taking part in the trial is VS186, departing on Wednesday, December 9.

The trial builds upon several testing offers and testing partnerships that Virgin Atlantic already has in place.

Virgin Atlantic was the first airline in the UK to introduce rapid, on-site, pre-flight Covid-19 testing for cabin crew and pilots at its Heathrow base, using an RT-Lamp test.

Between August 1 and November 24, 1,183 crew were Lamp-tested pre-departure and starting December 1, lateral flow testing technology is also being trialled with ground teams.

In partnership with Collinson, rapid on-site Lamp testing has been available to customers on Hong Kong flights from London Heathrow since October 20.

Virgin Atlantic was the first airline in the UK to introduce rapid, on-site, pre-flight Covid-19 testing for cabin crew and pilots at its Heathrow base, using an RT-Lamp test. Pictured is a Virgin Atlantic Covid-19 crew test in action

Virgin Atlantic was the first airline in the UK to introduce rapid, on-site, pre-flight Covid-19 testing for cabin crew and pilots at its Heathrow base, using an RT-Lamp test. Pictured is a Virgin Atlantic Covid-19 crew test in action 

British Airways, American Airlines and Oneworld have launched a Covid-19 testing trial on selected flights from the US to London Heathrow.

The new British Airways CEO, Sean Doyle, explained that at the end of the trial he wants to get the data collected into the hands of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Health Secretary Matt Hancock and ‘prove that we can restart flying safely without the need for quarantine measures’.

The trial will run to mid-December and will involve volunteer passengers being tested for free three days before departure in the US, upon arrival, and three days later in a bid to demonstrate that a pre-departure test 72 hours before you fly will negate the need for self-isolation.

Delta Air Lines, the Aeroporti di Roma and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport have joined in a ‘first-of-its-kind’ trans-Atlantic Covid-19 testing program that will enable quarantine-free entry into Italy.

United is running a testing scheme between New York and London, with the results shared on both sides of the Atlantic.


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