Boris Johnson has thus far resisted growing calls for Covid-19 testing at airports, stating that it would give “a false sense of security”, despite growing pressure from The Telegraph’s Test4Travel campaign for an end to quarantine.
But a new and improved on-the-spot test could be the key to opening up travel in the near future, in time to save the tourism and business travel industries from a catastrophic collapse.
The rapid antigen test, developed by Innova Medical Group and marketed by UK-based company Tried&Tested.Tech, is now being touted as a quicker, cheaper and far more reliable alternative to the more common polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, potentially allowing the Government to replace quarantine restrictions with the type of rigorous testing programme The Telegraph is calling for.
A number of independent schools and travel companies, including airlines, cruise lines and hotels, have already expressed their interest in the new test, and there is a plan for pop-up testing stations at eight locations across the UK, including London and Glasgow, which if successful will lead to a nationwide rollout.
Kim Thonger, Tried&Tested’s co-founder and director, said: “All of the travel entities we’ve been talking to, and we’ve been talking to dozens of them now, are of the opinion that quarantine for 14 days is completely unworkable, and it is killing the travel industry.
“But if you can reduce that quarantine time, at a relatively low cost for the company that’s implementing it, or at relatively low cost to the consumer, then you radically reduce the problem and make it more likely that people are going to take a chance on going on holiday.”
An exclusive survey conducted on The Telegraph’s behalf by travel consultancy The PC Agency / AudienceNet found that 62 per cent of the population is in support of an airport testing programme, and over half of respondents would be happy to pay for a test themselves.
What’s more, the process of the antigen test is simple: a CQC regulated health professional takes a saliva sample or ‘cheek scrape’ (both quicker and less invasive than the PCR swabs to the back of the nose and throat), which can then be analysed within maximum 20 minutes with an overall accuracy of 98.98 per cent.
Face-to-face time between nurse and patient is as little as five minutes, and a tamper-proof partner health app designed to inform travellers of their results while on the move prevents a build-up of people waiting to hear whether they need to quarantine.
Since the test does not require analytical machines, mobile labs or cold storage, it is also significantly more scalable – Tried&Tested has stated that it could deliver millions of tests each week.
“If you’re talking about doing mass scale testing where you’ve got hundreds, if not thousands, of people flooding through – that could be anywhere from theatres, airports, shopping malls, stadiums, anywhere you want to do an awful lot of people at any one time – you’ve got a rapid test that doesn’t need a machine or a lab, and is easy to do, and relatively cheap,” said Thonger.
“It’s a killer combination and that’s why we’re getting so much interest in it right now.”
The tests are ready to go and now just await Government approval, but as calls continue to mount from the beleaguered travel industry, as well as senior MPs and health professionals, for a viable alternative to quarantine, a testing programme could be in place by the end of the month.