The airport hopes that if the measures are successful, the government may ease its quarantine rules on arrivals into the UK.
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Passengers arriving at Heathrow’s Terminal 2 are to be screened for high temperatures from Thursday in a bid to identify travellers who might be infected with coronavirus.
Thermal imaging cameras mounted on tripods will automatically scan everyone who touches down at the terminal, aiming to spot those who have signs of a fever – one of the common symptoms of COVID-19.
The cameras form part of previously announced trials at the airport to combat the spread of coronavirus, which also include procedures to reduce person-to-person contact, UV sanitation and to quickly clean trays at security.
Should the screening prove successful, it could be expanded to departure halls and connection areas.
Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye has said he believes the new measures could be “key to minimising transmission of COVID-19 across borders”, and a spokesman for the airport suggested they could make government plans to force all arrivals into two weeks of quarantine unnecessary.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced last week that all travellers coming into the UK will soon have to enter a mandatory 14-day period of self-isolation, which is set to further reduce already dwindling demand for air travel.
Outcomes of the trials at Heathrow are to be fed to the government and the airport has suggested that success in weeding out people with COVID-19 symptoms may allow Downing Street to ease its quarantine rules.
But initially the measures at Terminal 2, which mainly deals with flights to and from Europe, will have no impact on the need for arrivals to quarantine.
Britons have been warned by several government ministers that foreign summer holidays are almost certain to be impossible this year, although Italy – which was once the European country worst-hit by coronavirus – is reopening its borders in a bid to kick-start its travel industry.
Ryanair has also said it plans to restore 40% of its flight schedule from July, with nearly 1,000 flights per day on offer across some 90% of its normal network.
This would be dependent on governments lifting restrictions on flights within the European Union, with all crew and passengers required to wear face masks and pass temperature checks.
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Airlines are desperate to get back to some form of business for the traditionally busy summer season, with the coronavirus pandemic having decimated income streams.
The biggest names in the industry are among those badly affected, with British Airways on course to cut 12,000 jobs, and advisers put on standby to handle the potential administration of Virgin Atlantic Airways.
Heathrow has also taken drastic action, with employees at Britain’s busiest airport warned they face the sack if they refuse to accept voluntary pay cuts.
Sky News learnt last month that Heathrow’s human resources chief told thousands of staff that “dismissal and reinstatement might be the final step” for anyone not choosing to take a 15% pay reduction.
And in the US, the number of people travelling through airports has fallen to levels not seen since the 1950s.