GENEVA, 26 July 2021: High testing costs will continue to
deter all, but the most enthusiastic travel fans, the International Air
Transport Association (IATA) warns in its latest appeal for governments to give
travel consumers a break and make test costs affordable.
IATA is calling on governments to be flexible and permit
cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to the more expensive PCR tests.
IATA also recommended governments adopt recent World Health Organization (WHO)
guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travellers from testing requirements
According to IATA’s most recent traveller survey, 86% of
respondents are willing to get tested. But 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
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. 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 tests adequately. At best, it is expensive, at worst extortionate.
And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT,”
said IATA’s director-general Willie Walsh.
The new generation of rapid tests cost less than USD10 per
test. Provided a confirmatory RT-PCR test is administered for positive test
results, 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.
Testing also needs to be appropriate to the threat level.
For example, in the UK, the latest National Health Service data on testing
arriving travellers show that more than 1.37 million tests were conducted on
arrivals from so-called amber-risk countries. Just 1% 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 travellers pose little to no risk of importing COVID-19 compared
to current levels of infection in the country. At the very least, therefore,
the UK government should follow WHO guidance and accept antigen tests that 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,” Walsh said.
Restarting international travel is vital to supporting the
46 million travel and tourism jobs worldwide that rely on aviation. “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.