(Adds PM spokesman comment)
LONDON, Oct 5 (Reuters) - Virgin Atlantic has started
testing cabin crew and pilots for COVID-19 on some flights, as
industry hopes grow the British government is close to allowing
more widespread airport testing that could help the country's
travel sector recover.
Virgin Atlantic, which needed a rescue deal to help it
survive the pandemic, said it would offer pilots and crew a test
before they depart from Heathrow Airport with results provided
in 30 minutes, to help give passengers confidence about flying.
Virgin and other UK-based Airlines including British Airways
and easyJet are desperate for passenger numbers
to rise but say demand is being held back by Britain's 14-day
quarantine rules for arrivals from most countries.
They have been calling for COVID-19 tests at airports as an
Stephen Barclay, Britain's deputy finance minister,
suggested on Saturday that an announcement from transport
minister Grant Shapps and health minister Matt Hancock on
airport testing could come "in the coming days".
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman did not confirm
this timeline when asked on Monday.
"Work is ongoing with clinicians and health experts on the
practicalities on using testing to reduce the self isolation
period for international arrivals and we remain in regular
contact with the sector," the spokesman told reporters.
Travel remains at very low levels compared with before the
pandemic. In August, Britain's busiest airport, Heathrow, saw
fewer than a fifth of the number of passengers it usually does.
Barclay told the discussion at the Conservative Party's
annual conference that the government had been looking at
airport testing in Germany, where a negative test allows
travellers to be released early from quarantine restrictions.
Virgin said it would start the testing on pilots and crews
on flights to Shanghai and Hong Kong first.
"However, we continue to call for the swift introduction of
a wider coordinated passenger testing regime," the airline said
in a statement.
(Reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by Elizabeth
Piper; Editing by Alex Richardson and Mark Potter)