The global trade association of airlines, International Air Transport Association (IATA) urges governments to look into the high cost of COVID-19 tests in many jurisdictions and advised them to be flexible in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to PCR tests.
IATA also recommended governments across the globe to adopt recent World Health Organization (WHO) guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travelers from testing requirements.
According to IATA’s most recent traveler survey, 86 percent of respondents are willing to get tested. But 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.
“IATA supports COVID-19 testing as a pathway to reopening borders to international travel. But our support is not unconditional. In addition to being reliable, testing needs to be easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level. 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 to test. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT.”
The new generation of rapid tests costs less than $10 per test. Provided a confirmatory rRT-PCR test is administered for positive test results, WHO guidance sees Ag-RDT antigen testing as an acceptable alternative to PCR. The WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHRs) state that where testing is a mandatory requirement neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing.
Testing also needs to be appropriate to the threat level. For instance, in the UK, the latest National Health Service data on testing arriving travelers show that over 1.37 million tests were conducted on arrivals from so-called Amber countries out of which only 1 percent tested positive in four months.
“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,” Mr. Walsh said.
Restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world that rely on aviation. IATA’s latest survey shows that the high cost of testing will bear heavily on the shape of the travel recovery. “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,” Mr. Walsh added.