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Published on Friday, November 27, 2020

Virgin to start pre-departure Covid test trials next month

Virgin Atlantic will start a six-week pre-departure Covid-19 testing trial on selected Heathrow to Barbados flights on 9 December.

Participating customers will be asked to take a free rapid, point of care, lateral flow antigen test before they fly, delivered by health professionals at Collinson and Swissport's Terminal 2 Pre-Departure testing facility.

The airline hopes the trial will gather further 'real-world evidence' on pre-departure testing effectiveness to enable the UK Government to move quickly to a robust pre-departure testing regime and safely remove quarantine.

The Heathrow-Barbados flights also operate onwards as a 'double drop' service to Antigua or Grenada (depending on the service) so passengers travelling to these destinations may also be asked to take part.

Passengers aged five years and below are exempt.

The lateral flow antigen test will not replace existing testing protocols to enter the countries (for example, Barbados customers will still need to arrange a valid negative PCR test, three days prior to arrival).

The nasal and throat swab will be administered up to 1 hour 45 minutes before depature by a registered nurse and customers will receive their digital and printed test result within 30 minutes.

After confirmation of a negative result, they'll go through to security and boarding.

Passengers chosen to take part in the trial will be contacted by Virgin Atlantic in the coming days with information on the pre-departure test.

Working with the Barbados Government and with customer consent where required, Virgin Atlantic will seek to add the results of this trial to the body of evidence being aggregated by Heathrow to understand the effectiveness of pre-departure testing.

Barbados is on the UK Government's travel corridor list because of to its low levels of Covid-19 community cases and the evidence gathered will support a reduction in quarantine post-arrival, so customers can enjoy their holiday, whilst ensuring destinations remain secure.

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 in order 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.

"Moving to a pre-departure regime, supported by latest independent evidence, would be twice as effective as quarantine. Passengers should be able to take a test from up to 72 hours before departure, including a rapid test at the airport on the day of departure.

"Valid tests should include PCR, Rapid Point of Care LAMP and lateral flow technologies used by government in other settings, with no diversion from NHS testing capacity. We call on the government to follow the evidence, support industry trials, and lead the way in allowing free movement of people and goods to resume."

David Evans, Joint CEO at Collinson, said: "As well as giving travellers and arrival destinations some much-needed confidence that all passengers have received a negative result prior to departure, the data from these trials will provide further evidence on the effectiveness of airport testing.

"With the results, the industry can fine-tune testing models to get the best systems in place for broader travel recovery - and we'll continue to work with our partners across the sector to ensure travel thrives once more."

By Lisa James, Deputy Editor (UK)

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