Coronavirus: UK’s Gatwick Airport sees travel boost after new COVID-19 testing rules

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The boss of Britain’s Gatwick Airport said the introduction of shorter quarantine times from mid-December was boosting travel, and that the combination of testing and a COVID-19 vaccine means he is optimistic holidays can restart next year.

Gatwick, Britain’s second busiest airport, is opening a new COVID-19 testing facility on Monday, offering passengers discounted tests. CEO Stewart Wingate hopes by making it easier and cheaper to get a test, more people will travel.

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From mid-December, travelers arriving in England will have to quarantine for five days instead of 14 if they have a negative test, a rule change which Wingate said is helping.

“We are seeing already an uptick in flights, so we should expect to see about 100 flights per day by the time we get to the middle of December, and across the Christmas period,” he told Reuters in an interview.

The pandemic has battered the aviation industry, leaving Gatwick particularly exposed as airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have prioritized flights from Heathrow, Britain’s no.1 airport to the west of London.

During England’s latest lockdown in November, Gatwick, easyJet’s biggest base, had about four flights a day, a startling drop from 600 flights a day this time last year. Some of Gatwick’s airlines, such as Norwegian, are fighting for survival.

Wingate, who has had to ax 45 percent of Gatwick’s staff during the pandemic, forecast a travel recovery next summer, when he expected the airport’s airlines to be flying between 60 percent and 70 percent of their 2019 capacity.

“I expect once the vaccinations roll out and the testing is rolled out, we should expect to see quite a strong performance in the market next summer,” he said.

The testing site in a long-stay car park at Gatwick will initially be able to test up to 500 people per day, but this could be ramped up to 2,000 a day, and then 4,000 a day given sufficient demand, according to testing company ExpressTest.

Wingate said demand for tests at the site was “strong” and he hoped ExpressTest would roll out more sites. They will cost Gatwick passengers 60 pounds ($80), and anyone else 100 pounds.

Wingate said Gatwick, 30 miles south of London, also remained attractive to airlines. Hungarian airline Wizz Air has publicly said it wants to expand at Gatwick, and Wingate said others did too.

“Ryanair are quite keen to grow as well at the airport,” he said.

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