A pilot scheme for Covid testing of staff at Heathrow is to be initiated in collaboration with NHS Test & Trace.

The government-led initiative will use rapid lateral flow tests to prevent the spread of the virus at the airport.

The initial four week trial will involve around 2,000 Heathrow workers. Any positive test results will be cross-checked with a PCR test and the employee will be instructed to self-isolate in line with NHS guidance.

It is designed to support measures already in place to keep the London hub airport Covid-secure, help stop the spread of the new more contagious strain of the virus and provide “valuable insight” into how rapid testing can be more widely deployed across the UK to keep services such as critical national infrastructure running.

The project, using devices can provide test results in as little as 20 minutes, sets out to understand how routine testing might be used to help identify asymptomatic cases of Covid in the airport’s workforce. The short turnaround time will make it quicker and easier to identify and isolate positive cases.

Understanding how new technologies can be used to regularly screen large numbers of people with quick results is key to the government’s plans to rollout mass testing across society, according to Heathrow.

The pilot at Heathrow “will help the government to better understand where to best use the technology and how it can be operationalised in the real world; helping the public to go back to as normal a way of life as possible”.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said:We’re pleased to be working with the government on this pilot testing scheme which goes even further to protect our colleagues and the other key workers who are keeping the country moving through this crisis.

“This pilot will support us as we work to keep the UK’s biggest port running smoothly, helping to facilitate essential journeys and the movement of cargo.”

Baroness Dido Harding, interim executive chair of the National Institute for Health Protection, said: “With over 62 million tests processed and more than seven million people contact-traced since its creation nine months ago, NHS Test and Trace plays a vital role in the fight against Covid-19.

“This is a national effort and a partnership of public and private sectors. Around one in three people with Covid-19 don’t display symptoms, meaning you can infect others unknowingly.

“This pilot is one of many which will inform our understanding of how rapid asymptomatic testing can be operationalised in the real world; to protect those at high risk, find the virus and help us go back to as normal a way of life as possible.”