A new terminal dedicated to passengers arriving from countries with a high risk of Covid-19 has opened at Heathrow Airport.
Passengers who arrive back in the UK on direct flights from a country on the travel ‘red list’ will now transit through Terminal 3 to avoid the risk of mixing with other travellers in the airport.
Cutting risk of new variants
While travellers returning to the UK after visiting a red list country in the 10 days previous are required to enter a quarantine hotel for 11 nights after their arrival, concerns have been raised about the potential spread of coronavirus before they get to the hotel.
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People who had visited a country at high-risk of Covid-19 were previously mixing with other passengers in immigration halls, where they often would be waiting for several hours to get through security checks.
The new terminal aims to help reduce the risk of exposing other passengers in the airport to those who have been in a red list country, with the hope it will cut the risk of new variants being transmitted.
Heathrow insisted there were “several layers of protection to keep passengers and colleagues safe”, such as mandatory testing for all arrivals, segregation and ventilation.
A Heathrow Airport spokeswoman said: "Red list routes will likely be a feature of UK travel for the foreseeable future as countries vaccinate their populations at different rates.
"We're adapting Heathrow to this longer-term reality by initially opening a dedicated arrivals facility."
The opening of Terminal 3 marks the first time it has been used since April 2020, when it was closed to save costs amid the collapse in demand for travel.
The dedicated arrivals site will switch to Terminal 4 "as soon as operationally possible", Heathrow added.
‘Logistically very challenging’
Heathrow said its top priority is to protect the public and help minimise the risk of new Covid-19 variants, but added that opening the facility would be “logistically very challenging”.
The airport hopes the dedicated terminal will allow Border Force to carry out its duties of processing passengers more efficiently, before they are escorted to a quarantine hotel.
The decision to separate arrivals on direct flights from red list destinations was welcomed by the GMB union, which had previously warned that “bottlenecks” are putting passengers and staff at risk.
The opening comes ahead of the next travel update, which is expected to be announced on 7 June, which could see more countries added to the government’s green list, bringing a greater volume of passengers into airports.
However, stringent checks will continue for anyone who travels to a red list country, meaning passengers will be subject to mandatory Covid-19 tests and quarantine on arrival back in the UK.
At the moment, 43 countries are on the red list but direct flights are only permitted from a small number, including India, Kenya, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Passengers arriving in the UK after being in one of those destinations during the previous 10 days must spend 11 nights in a quarantine hotel, costing £1,750 for solo travellers.
Government advice recommends against travel to both amber and red listed countries for holidays or leisure purposes, with holidaymakers instead urged to only visit destinations on the green list.
A government spokeswoman stressed that protecting the health of the public is the UK's top priority and introducing enhanced border checks will help to minimise the risk of new Covid-19 variants being transmitted.
The spokeswoman said: "As we reopen international travel safely, we will maintain 100 per cent health checks at the border and the new dedicated terminal at Heathrow for arrivals from red list countries will enable passengers to be processed as safely and as efficiently as possible, before being transferred to a managed quarantine facility.
"We continue to do all we can to smooth the process, including the roll-out of our e-gate upgrade programme during the summer and deploying additional Border Force officers."