GENEVA — Testing for COVID-19 needs to be more accessible, says IATA, adding that governments should consider permitting the use of antigen tests over more expensive PCR tests.
According to IATA’s most recent traveller survey, 86% of respondents are willing to get tested. However, 70% also believe that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel while 78% believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.
“IATA supports COVID-19 testing as a pathway to reopen 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.”
Walsh added that the cost of testing varies widely between jurisdictions, with little relation to the actual cost of conducting the test.
“The U.K. 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,” he said.
The new generation of rapid tests costs less than US$10 per test. Provided a confirmatory rRT-PCR test is administered for positive test results, guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO) 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 no carriers should bear the cost of testing.
Testing, added IATA, needs to be appropriate to the threat level. For example, in the U.K., the latest National Health Service data on testing arriving travellers show that more than 1.37 million tests conducted on arrivals from so-called Amber countries. Just 1% tested positive over four months. Meanwhile, nearly three times that number of positive cases are being deted in the general population daily.
“Data from the U.K. government confirms that international travellers 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 U.K. 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.
“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,” said Walsh.
IATA also recommends governments adopt WHO guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travellers from testing requirements.