Dr Anshumen Bhagat, NHS GP and founder of on-demand GP service GPDQ, believes that conducting coronavirus tests at the airport is “generally ineffective”. Dr Bhagat states this is due to an “insufficient incubation period” for the virus.
“With testing at the correct time, this quarantine period would only need to be between four and eight days, at which point those travelled – and those who they live with, if they haven’t travelled – should be tested for the virus itself.
“This allows for the incubation period to be met and will mean that infection will be shown.
“At that point, if the tested individual is not COVID-19 positive, they can return to work and safely socialise, informed and healthy.”
This is a suggestion that Heathrow airport’s CEO has also put forward himself.
Speaking on BBC News John Holland-Kaye suggested: “The first [test] at the airport, we’ve been working with Swissport to put that in place, we can get that running in two weeks.
“Then the passenger would go to quarantine at their home, they give their information to the track and trace system in the UK, then after five or eight days – whichever the government is comfortable with, they have a second test at an NHS facility and if they were clear they would be allowed out of quarantine earlier than if this was not the case.”
Science is also on the side of a reduced quarantine period for those who are tested.
Preliminary modelling from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine suggested 94 percent of cases would be detected if the quarantine period was cut to eight days and passengers tested negative on the seventh.
“Whilst tests aren’t free at present, it should be deemed as an essential to travel, and should be encompassed in travel providers’ offerings; flights, accommodation, testing. Individuals who fly need to see this as the new normal for travel essentials in the same way that insurance, SPF for hot countries, and a new holiday wardrobe already are.
“If you’re able to travel, you should be able to equip yourself and those around you with the tools to do it safely and it is on the travel providers to offer a service which encompasses this safe return.”
He also believes that a better testing system could boost the economy if put into action appropriately.
“Increased testing will no doubt help the industry, but we need to look at how this can be done effectively,” he said.
“At present, there are two methods being discussed, and an important issue remains over how these options might be funded.”
The first method would involve passengers having the first test several days prior to travelling to the UK, with the second test taking place the day prior to departure.
Dr Bhagat believes this will allow for “sufficient time for incubation and anything missed in the first test.”
“That option could mean that people would avoid quarantine altogether, however, this might mean that in some cases people would need to be tested abroad which is logistically a touch more complex to facilitate,” he pointed out.
This option, however, would require a period of self-isolation.
Regardless of the method, though, the expert believes this would be the key to boosting tourism.
“Accurate testing and results facilitate safe movement between countries, whilst giving people the confidence to fly who didn’t want to before and consequently will remove the need to take extended periods of time off work, too,” he said.
Of course, with the entire world still grappling with the pandemic, it is hard to know for sure which direction is the right one.
“At present, I wouldn’t confidently say that any other country is doing anything ground-breaking,” he said.
“Globally, we are not only still in the process of trying to understand the disease and its patterns of infectivity, but also we are dealing with constant outbreaks where travel bans are the only way to curb the rise in infection rates.”
Though the virus lives on and airport testing continues to be a point of contention for many, Dr Bhagat does believe travellers can take some elements of safety into their own hands when jetting off.
He explained: “You can help control coronavirus and travel safely by avoiding the busiest times and routes when getting to the airport, train or ferry terminal; keeping your distance when you travel; regularly wash or sanitise your hands; refrain from talking, shouting or singing near other people; wear a mask and don’t touch your face.”