Emirates says it has become the first airline in the world to offer its passengers pre-flight coronavirus testing, with the results available in just 10 minutes.
Dubai's state-owned carrier worked with the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) to conduct the Covid-19 testing in the check-in area of terminal three of Dubai International Airport for those travelling on a service to Tunisia on Wednesday.
Emirates said it intends to extend the program to other flights, allowing passengers travelling to countries that require coronavirus test certificates for entry to gain confirmation before flying.
The airline did not reveal the results of Wednesday's testing, how many people travelled or whether if a passenger tested positive they would be denied boarding. The flight was operated on one of Emirates' Boeing 777 aircraft, capable of carrying more than 300 passengers.
The blood test is likely to check for antibodies and may not be a reliable indicator of whether someone is currently infected with coronavirus.
"We are working on plans to scale up testing capabilities in the future and extend it to other flights," said chief operating office Adel Al Redha, adding: "The health and safety of staff and passengers at the airport remain of paramount importance."
The introduction raises the prospect of more airlines following suit in a bid to help restore flight schedules. Carriers around the world are feeling the financial hit of having to cancel tens of thousands of flights and ground fleets amid the pandemic lockdown; Emirates has cancelled up to 70 per cent of its flights.
Emirates also said it is requiring passengers to wear their own masks at the airport and on board the plane. It said gloves, masks and hand sanitisers have been made mandatory for all employees, too.
Magazines and other reading material have been removed from the flight and passengers are no longer allowed to take cabin bags on-board, with all luggage to be checked. The airline said all aircraft are undergoing "enhanced cleaning and disinfection processes in Dubai after each journey".
The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is a part, has registered just under 5,000 cases of coronavirus, and 28 deaths. It has carried out nearly 650,000 tests, giving it the third highest testing rate of its population in the world, behind just Iceland and the Faroe Islands; the UK has carried out just 400,000 tests.
The UAE has a population of just 9.6 million but boasts one of the world's busiest transport hubs. Dubai International is the fifth busiest airport in the world, welcoming 86.3 million passengers last year.
Humaid Al Qutami, director general of the DHA, said: "To tackle COVID-19, we have been proactively working with various governmental organisations and the private health sector and we have implemented all necessary measures from public health protection to provision of high-quality health services in line with the latest international guidelines."
The Telegraph, London