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Heathrow's COVID-19 losses hit £2.9bn as CEO warns UK 'falling behind its EU rivals'

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File photo dated 22/08/20 of passengers in the arrivals hall at Heathrow Airport, London. Almost 2,500 people who arrived in the UK and tested positive for coronavirus over the course of three months could not be properly traced because they gave authorities the incorrect contact information. Issue date: Saturday June 26, 2021.
Fewer than 4 million people travelled through Heathrow in the first six months of 2021, a level that would have taken just 18 days to reach in 2019. Photo: PA

Heathrow Airport's losses continued to stack up as COVID-19 travel lockdowns lag in the UK, hitting £2.9bn ($4bn). 

The travel hub said in first half results it had taken action to secure jobs and the financial resilience of the business, reducing cash burn by 50% compared with the first half in 2019. 

It said it had brokered a 35% reduction in operating costs and a 77% cut in capex to shore up its future. 

It has sufficient cover for its commitments until October 2022 in the "extreme no revenue scenario". 

Even as its finances headed onto surer footing, CEO John Holland-Kaye warned the UK is "falling behind its EU rivals in international trade by being slow to remove restrictions."

"Replacing PCR tests with lateral flow tests and opening up to EU and US vaccinated travellers at the end of July will start to get Britain's economic recovery off the ground," he said. 

Watch: Heathrow Airport's losses continue to stack up

Fewer than 4 million people travelled through Heathrow in the first six months of 2021, a level that would have taken just 18 days to reach in 2019. 

Recent changes to the government's traffic light system could be positive for the business, but, the airport said, expensive testing requirements and travel restrictions are holding back the UK's economic recovery and could see Heathrow welcome fewer passengers in 2021 than in 2020.

Cargo volume at Heathrow, Britain's biggest port, remains 18% down on pre-pandemic levels, while Frankfurt and Schiphol are up by 9%. 

Read more: UK dividends beat second quarter expectations in dramatic bounce-back

Trade routes between the EU and the US have recovered to nearly 50% of pre-pandemic levels while the UK remains 92% down.

The company also urged the government to provide more financial support to the travel sector, including an extension to furlough and business rates relief. 

Heathrow pays nearly £120m a year in rates, in spite of being loss making.  

The government is changing policy to prevent the airport from reclaiming overpayments — a move which is being challenged in the High Court.

Watch: Should I book a holiday in 2021?

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