According to Downing Street sources quoted in this weekend’s Sunday Times (paywall), Terminal 5 at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) has been scouted as a potential field hospital to deal with Covid-19 patients. Several other so-called “supersurge” field hospitals are currently under construction, including a 4,000-bed facility being erected in a huge convention centre in east London.
Terminal 5 is currently home to British Airways and the airline recently consolidated all of its operations at Heathrow into the one terminal – which would presumably mean that BA would have to stop all flight operations for a period of time if this plan was to work. Alternatively, British Airways might be forced to move again to an unaffected terminal.
At 396 metres long, the vast main terminal building could fit over 50 football pitches across its five floors. According to the airport operator, the terminal handles over 270 million passengers in a typical year, although those numbers have dwindled in recent weeks.
The rumour of setting up a Coronavirus treatment facility at Heathrow emerged just days after Birmingham Airport confirmed a temporary mortuary was being set up in a hangar within the airport to handle a surge in deaths from the novel Coronavirus. Initially, the mortuary will be able to handle 1,500 bodies but there is “scope to expand” to as many as 12,000 bodies.
There are also plans to turn Heathrow into a quarantine centre, forcing anyone returning to the UK to undergo a 14-day quarantine in one of the currently empty airport hotels. Similar plans have been drawn up by authorities in several countries including Australia.
A source told the Sunday Times that “you can’t trust people to do it (isolate for 14-days) on their own”. One airport hotel at the West London airport has already been block-booked by the British government to treat Covid-19 patients who don’t need oxygen or ventilation.
The paper also suggested there was a rift in the government over the existing policy not to impose any travel restrictions on countries also experiencing high numbers of Coronavirus cases. Throughout the epidemic, flights from China have continued without interruption and more than 20 flights a day continue to arrive from the United States where over 125,000 Covid-19 cases have already been confirmed.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.