London Heathrow has become the first UK airport to offer rapid Covid-19 pre-departure tests, initially to outbound passengers to Hong Kong and Italy.

Two private companies, Collinson and Swissport, have established testing centres in Terminals 2 and 5 at Heathrow, with each test costing £80 ($104) and the results available after around an hour.

The testing centres could be expanded to provide a wider range of testing for pre-departure or arrivals, the companies say. The current scheme will initially run for four weeks to gauge passenger and airline demand.

A negative Covid-19 test before boarding is required to enter Hong Kong and Italy. Cathay PacificBritish Airways and Virgin Atlantic serve these destinations from Heathrow. Passengers are required to book a testing slot ahead of time.

A test-on-arrival facility was established at Heathrow in August, but is yet to receive UK Government clearance to operate.

“Many other countries are already using testing to keep their borders safe while restarting trade and travel. These facilities will make it easier for passengers going to those countries to get a test and have the potential to provide a service for arriving passengers,” states Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye.

“Ultimately, we need a common international standard for pre-departure testing, and we welcome the UK government’s recent announcement that it wants to take a global lead in establishing this. We will work with them to make this happen as soon as possible, so that we protect livelihoods as well as lives.”

Carriers such as British Airways have urged the UK government to adopt pre-departure testing as a way to remove the need for passengers to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival, a requirement that has decimated demand for travel.

However, the UK government has rejected that approach and is seeking to implement a ‘test and release’ approach, under which passengers would be allowed to reduce quarantine periods to one week following a negative Covid-19 test.