Rapid free pre-departure Covid tests will be offered by Virgin Atlantic on flights to Barbados in a six-week trail.

The lateral flow antigen tests will be available at Heathrow from December 9 as part of an airline-led scheme to gather data on the logistics and effectiveness of pre-departure testing.

The carrier is calling for the introduction of a robust pre-departure regime to swiftly replace the new UK ‘test and release’ scheme starting on December 15.

Virgin Atlantic’s initiative aims to further demonstrate how a pre-departure testing regime can be delivered at scale, offering “real-world data” for the popular Caribbean route as UK travel restrictions for non-essential travel ease on December 3.

The nasal and throat swab in the trial will be administered up to 1 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.

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

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

Anonymous data from the trial will be accumulated to inform academic work to influence UK policymaking.

Complementing the outbound pre-departure rapid testing trial from Heathrow to Barbados and onwards to Antigua and Grenada, Virgin Atlantic intends to move to a second phase to gather data with pre-departure rapid testing for selected inbound services from December 15.

This coincides with the start of the UK ‘test to release’ regime on day five to generate critical data and support the removal of quarantine for international arrivals, according to the airline.

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

Chief executive Shai Weiss 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.”

Collinson joint chief executive David Evans added: “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.

“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.”

Barbados chief medical officer Dr Anton Best said: “The government of Barbados has worked assiduously over the past nine months to effectively manage the pandemic here, and 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.”

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