Covid-19 testing in UK airports ‘could be piloted within weeks’

Covid-19 testing in UK airports ‘could be piloted within weeks’

Jets on the tarmac of Belfast International Airport Picture: Niall Carson/PA

Covid-19 testing at airports in the UK could be piloted within three weeks as part of efforts to reduce quarantine times for travellers from overseas, Stormont’s chief scientific adviser said.

Professor Ian Young warned that a negative result upon arrival did not rule out someone recently infected developing the disease later.

One option could be to repeat the test five to eight days hence.

Professor Ian Young (Kelvin Boyes/PressEye/PA)

He said: “While there has been significant public interest in a test at the airport being negative…that is simply not a safe approach.

“If the individual has become infected in the two or three days before returning to Northern Ireland then they could be carrying the virus but would test negative at the airport and would be provided with false reassurance and could go on to spread significantly.”

He is due to meet authorities in the rest of the UK next week to talk about pilot schemes.

“We have had ongoing discussions…about a pilot of airport testing of incoming travellers to estimate the infection.”

He hoped such an initiative would begin within the next three or four weeks but the issue was being led by UK-wide authorities.

“The data will also inform a possible consideration of reducing the quarantine time in future.”

Prof Young said the authorities could not make exceptions to the self-isolation rule for regions within countries on the watch list for high infection rates.

Professor Young gave evidence to Stormont’s health committee on Thursday (Niall Carson/PA).

“We have had concerns that if we were to introduce regional differences for an overseas country it would be relatively easy for someone to get around those by travelling a short distance in the country concerned and returning to Northern Ireland or the UK via London or Dublin by a part of the country which was viewed as being safe.”

He gave evidence to Stormont’s health committee on Thursday.

“It is very difficult to know exactly how incoming travellers have moved around in a country overseas with significant regional variation in prevalence.”

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