The GeneME lamp used for COVID-19 testing at the Heathrow trial. (Heathrow Airport)

Heathrow Airport Trials Rapid COVID-19 Tests as Alternative to Blanket Quarantines

The workforce at London Heathrow Airport has taken part in three rapid point of care COVID-19 testing trials. The findings from the trials are being evaluated and will be shared with the U.K. government as ministers consider how testing could provide a safe alternative to blanket quarantine in certain circumstances. 

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. The trials evaluate three different testing methods for accuracy, user experience and practicality outside of a lab environment.

In its colleague testing trials, Heathrow worked with three solution developers: 

  • GeneME has proposed a rapid RT-LAMP test which uses a sample collected from a nasal or throat swab to provide results within 30 minutes. It uses a secure application from Yoti that simplifies the capture, processing and result sharing of COVID-19 tests, without needing paperwork. Secure “spoof-proof” results can be sent to an individual’s phone using the free Yoti app or to a specified email.
  • Mologic has put forward 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 working with the airport to trial its Virolens testing device to see whether its machine learning holographic microscope, backed by Dell/Intel and partnered with TT Electronics plc for design and manufacturing, can quickly (in under 30 seconds) and accurately identify whether a person is carrying the disease through a self-administered test. 

Colleagues were given the option to choose which of the solutions they tested. However, as the results of these initial trials are only advisory until the methodologies are proven to work in a non-clinical setting, participating colleagues also took a government approved, privately provided PCR test, administered by Collinson Assistance Services Ltd. to compare their results to government accredited tests.

Earlier this month, the British government unveiled plans to trial new rapid coronavirus tests across NHS hospitals, care homes and labs to understand how these alternative tests could help to increase testing capacity in preparation for winter. Heathrow’s own trials will feed into the government’s findings after being independently evaluated by a sub group of academics that are part of CONDOR. It is hoped that these findings will then be used to support the recovery across sectors.

CONDOR is working to accelerate the real-world use of COVID-19 diagnostics and their findings will help to identify the most accurate testing methods. Results of the study are being sent to Department for Health and Social Care to support the decision making process.   

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye said if the airport can find a test that gets the government green light, it could have the potential to introduce wide-scale testing. The trials further complement Swissport and Collinson’s proposed PCR testing-on-arrival pilot, the facility for which was unveiled recently. The pilot, which is subject to government approval, could provide passengers arriving from countries with higher infection rates with a reduced quarantine period if they test negative for COVID-19 twice, during the proposed two test process.

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