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Several airports are offering COVID-19 tests upon arrival. Here’s what to expect

At Iceland's Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport, COVID-19 testing is available.
At Iceland’s Reykjavik-Keflavik Airport, COVID-19 testing is available. Arctic Adventures is helping to arrange tests for incoming tourists.
(Rasa Petuch / Arctic Adventures)

Several airports have begun offering COVID-19 tests as travel starts to revive and destinations worldwide compete to attract tourists and keep disease away.

In many cases, the idea is that travelers land, get tested and receive a quick negative result — thereby avoiding the 14-day quarantine period often required by many countries and islands (including Hawaii). It’s too early for much in the way of results, but the idea is spreading.

• In Alaska, state officials earlier this month decided that if travelers test negative at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, they need not wait out a quarantine period. Those who take the airport test must remain quarantined until a negative result is reported. The goal, officials said, was to get results within 48 hours.

But the Anchorage Daily News reported that in the program’s first weeks, wait times for results have often been three to five days, a delay that could make a one-week visit a nonstarter.

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• In Austria, Vienna International Airport this week started offering coronavirus tests, forecasting results “within a period of about three to six hours.” Austria is using a molecular-biological COVID-19 test, also known as a polymerase chain reaction test. Cost of the test: about $215. For visitors from many countries, including the U.S., Austria’s border policy requires a 14-day quarantine, a test at the airport, or a similar test result that is no older than four days.

• In the United Kingdom, the BBC reported that a trial COVID-19 testing program will begin “at a major U.K. airport” in coming weeks.

That program — like the others designed to make quarantines unnecessary — is intended to deliver results within 24 hours, with negative results in as little as five hours.

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A PCR swab test would be used, the same type used by the country’s National Health Service facilities. The BBC reported that the tests would require advance booking and cost about $175.

• In Iceland, airport testing is expected to increase noticeably starting July 1. On that date, the country opens its borders to travelers from countries beyond Europe. To encourage tourists, many tour operators are covering the $113 cost of a COVID-19 test upon arrival at Reykjavík–Keflavík Airport.

Under Icelandic law, newcomers are required to either quarantine themselves for 14 days or pass the airport COVID-19 test, which is said to yield results within 24 hours.

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At Arctic Adventures, one of the first Icelandic companies to make the free-COVID-19 test offer, Chief Marketing Officer Rasa Petuch said about 5,000 Americans had booked tours from July through September.

That’s “less than half the number of bookings we received last year,” Petuch wrote in an email. Petuch also noted a pattern in this summer’s bookings: “People are coming for longer stays.”

Those who choose the test at the airport, Petuch said, will undergo nose and throat swab tests and will be asked to take extra precautions to protect themselves and others from infection while awaiting results. Besides washing hands, using sanitizer and avoiding public transport, travelers being tested are urged to download and use Iceland’s official contact-tracing app, Rakning C-19, which also will show them their test results.

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At LAX, spokeswoman Becca Doten said she was unaware of any such testing program so far.


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