The International Air Transport Association (IATA) once more called on governments to take action, reduce the high cost of COVID-19 tests and allow more “flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests.”
The association has also recommended adopting recent World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines and considering exempting vaccinated travelers from testing requirements.
A recent ITAT traveler survey shows that 86 percent of respondents are willing to get tested. However, 70 percent also admit the high cost of testing is a major deterrent to travel, while 78 percent believe that governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
As per IATA’s announcement, “Testing also needs to be appropriate to the threat level.” In the UK, for example, the latest NHS data on incoming travelers show that more than 1.37 million tests were conducted on travelers from Amber countries. Yet, only 1 percent tested positive over four months. In the general population, meanwhile, almost three times that number of positive cases are detected daily.
“IATA supports COVID-19 testing as a pathway to reopening borders to international travel. But our support is not unconditional,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General. “In addition to being reliable, 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.
“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 manage testing adequately. At best, it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT.”
With the new generation of rapid tests costing less than $10 per test, and with WHO guidelines asserting that antigen tests are an acceptable alternative to PCR, the WHO’s International Health Regulations argues that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing, where testing is a mandatory requirement.
“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,” added Walsh. “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 to access to travel.”
As IATA correctly points out, restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million aviation-related travel and tourism jobs worldwide. “Our latest survey confirms 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,” concluded Walsh.