The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recently called on governments to take action to address the high cost of coronavirus (Covid-19) tests in many jurisdictions and urged flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests.
According to IATA’s most recent traveler survey, 86 percent of respondents are willing to get tested. However, 70 percent also believe that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel, while 78 percent believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
“Testing needs to be easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level. Too many governments, however, are falling short on some or all of these,” said IATA Director General Willie Walsh, adding that the cost of testing varies widely between jurisdictions, with little relation to the actual cost of conducting the test.
“The UK is the poster child for governments failing to adequately manage testing. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT,” said Walsh.
The new generation of rapid tests cost less than $10 per test. Provided a confirmatory rRT-PCR test is administered for positive test results, World Health Organization (WHO) guidance sees Ag-RDT antigen testing as an acceptable alternative to PCR. And, where testing is a mandatory requirement, the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHRs) state that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing.
“It makes little sense for governments to take steps to reopen borders, if those steps make the cost of travel prohibitive to most people. We need a restart that is affordable for all,” said IATA’s director general.
Testing should be appropriate to threat level
IATA has also stated that testing needs to be appropriate to the threat level. Referring to the UK as an example, IATA said the latest National Health Service data on testing arriving travelers showed that more than 1.37 million tests were conducted on arrivals from so-called Amber countries and just 1 percent tested positive over four months. Meanwhile, nearly three times that number of positive cases are being detected in the general population daily.
“Data from the UK government confirms that international travelers pose little to no risk of importing Covid-19 compared to existing levels of infection in the country. At the very least therefore, the UK government should follow WHO guidance and accept antigen tests which are fast, affordable and effective, with a confirmatory PCR test for those who test positive. This could be a pathway for enabling even unvaccinated people access to travel,” Walsh said.
IATA has also recommended governments to adopt WHO guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travelers from testing requirements.
“Restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world that rely on aviation,” ΙΑΤΑ said.