Heathrow pushes for passenger testing over quarantine as UK warns there's 'no silver bullet'

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Heathrow is urgently calling for a passenger testing regime. Photo: Matt Dunham/AP
Heathrow is urgently calling for a passenger testing regime. Photo: Matt Dunham/AP

Heathrow Airport is calling for the UK to introduce a passenger COVID-19 testing regime to boost air travel after the industry was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

The CEO of Europe’s busiest airport John Holland-Kaye warned that the UK would be losing a game of global “quarantine roulette” if the government fails to take action.

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Responding to the criticism from Heathrow, UK culture minister Oliver Dowden said there was no easy solution, stating that there is no “silver bullet” on testing which could allow quarantine-free travel.

The travel industry has been plagued by fears of a second wave of shutdowns after Britain imposed a quarantine on travellers from Spain just as the industry has begun to re-open.

“The UK needs a passenger testing regime and fast,” Heathrow CEO Holland-Kaye said. “Without it, Britain is just playing a game of quarantine roulette.

“Our European competitors are racing ahead with passenger testing, if the UK doesn't act soon global Britain will be nothing more than a campaign slogan.”

READ MORE: Ryanair warns COVID-19 second wave is its 'biggest fear'

Dowden told the BBC: “It can incubate over a period of time so there's not a silver bullet of just testing immediately at the border.”

The German government announced on Monday that it will make coronavirus tests compulsory for people arriving in the country from high-risk areas from next week.

Heathrow, along with airports, airlines and the entire tourism industry across the globe is suffering from the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Passenger numbers fell 96% in the second quarter while cargo volumes fell over 30%. Revenue was down by 85%.

UK airports are set to lose at least £4bn ($5.1bn) in revenue this year according to industry chiefs. Analysis by the Airport Operators Association (AOA) suggests UK airports lost more than £150m a day during the first four months of the pandemic.

However, Heathrow said its finances remained robust, stating it had enough cash to last until at least June 2021 with no revenue.

“We have agreed a waiver on financial covenants until the end of 2021 and maintained our Investment Grade credit rating status,” it said.

READ MORE: Tui cancels holidays to Spain after government's quarantine U-turn

Hungarian low-cost carrier Wizz Air (WIZZ.L) said there was still too much uncertainty from COVID-19 for it to provide financial guidance for 2021 after its earnings plunged 95% in its first quarter, as it likened the recovery of the aviation industry to a “roller coaster.”

The company posted underlying Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) of €8.9m (£8.1m, $10.4m) in the three months to 30 June, down from the €187.2m it made in the same period last year.

Budget airline Ryanair (RYA.L) warned a second wave of the coronavirus is its “biggest fear” as it revealed losses of €185m in the three months to the end of June on Monday. It had made €243m in the same period last year.

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