The government is understood to plan an announcement on Covid-testing of air passengers in October, but the head of Heathrow has cautioned against expectations of “a quick solution”.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye told Travel Weekly: “We’ve heard the Prime Minister hopes to go to a trial in the second half of October.”

But he warned: “I don’t think we’re going to have a quick solution to testing which will get all of us back traveling quickly.”

He said: “Even if the government says yes to PCR-testing this week, it will take some time before that really starts to get the numbers up to anything significant.

“It will take even longer for a common international standard [on testing], and longer again for a rapid point-of-care test.”

The most commonly used Covid-19 test is a PCR test which requires samples be sent to a lab. Point-of-care tests, such as those produced by US-based medical supplier Abbott can be completed while someone waits so would be more suitable for travellers.

Speaking on a Travel Weekly webcast, Holland-Kaye said: “We really don’t know how this is going to play out. We have to assume we’re going to be in the Covid crisis for the long haul. There is no silver bullet.

“But we can start to do things. We can start to open up testing.

“First, establish testing is a good alternative to 14 days quarantine. Then find quicker alternatives to the PCR test that give the results faster and also cost less without giving up on the accuracy.”

He explained: “The PCR tests cost about £150, so they’re expensive. The reason they’re expensive is that you have to have a lab technician take the sample, it has to be sent to a lab and examined and sent back. So it’s a laborious process.

“That is why we’ve been looking at other forms of testing.”

Holland-Kaye said: “Rapid point-of-care tests such as Abbott’s, which is being used in the US, is the next step. It can give results in 30 minutes or so.

“But while it might be accepted in the US, it may not be accepted by other countries and that is the challenge with moving to alternatives to the PCR test. There has to be international acceptability and you have to be able to scale up production enough to be able to use it on a much wider scale.”