GENEVA 1 April 2021: The International Air Transport Association urges governments to accept best-in-class rapid antigen tests in fulfilment of Covid-19 testing requirements following the publication of new research by OXERA and Edge Health.

The OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by IATA, identifies the advantages of antigen tests.

Accurate: The best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travellers. The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one positive case in 1000 travellers (based on an infection rate of 1% among travellers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.

Convenient: Processing times for antigen tests are 100 times faster than for PCR testing.

Cost-efficient: Antigen tests are, on average, 60% cheaper than PCR tests.

“Restarting international aviation will energise the
economic recovery from Covid-19. Along with vaccines, testing will play a
critical role in giving governments the confidence to reopen their borders to
travellers. For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travellers will
also need tests to be convenient and affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report
tells us that the best-in-class antigen tests can tick all these boxes. It’s
important for governments to consider these findings as they make plans for a
restart,” said IATA’s director general and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac.

Options

Testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is
confusing to travellers. Moreover, many governments do not allow rapid testing.
If the only options available for travellers are PCR tests, these come with
significant costs, disadvantages and inconvenience. And in some parts of the
world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to
clinical use.

“Travellers need options. Including antigen testing
among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery. And the
EU’s specification of acceptable antigen tests offers a good baseline for wider
international harmonisation of acceptable standards. We now need to see
governments implement these recommendations. The goal is to have a clear set of
testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and
practically available to all prospective travellers,” said de Juniac.

Costs

If rapid tests are not an option for travellers, high cost
and convenience barriers are created. The OXERA-Edge Health report presented
the following analysis:

The cost of PCR testing can completely alter the economics
of travel. A family of four travelling from the UK to the Canary Islands will
take 16 tests at a total cost of around GBP1,600 or EUR1,850 – a premium of
160% on top of the average airfare.

A typical London-Frankfurt business trip sees a cost
increase of 59% with the PCR test requirement.

The modelling shows that based on five routes studied
(London-New York, London-Frankfurt, UK-Singapore, UK-Pakistan and
Manchester-Canary Islands), the cost impact of PCR testing will reduce demand
by an average of 65%. Replacing PCR with antigen testing would still have a
cost impact on demand but at 30%.

Financial barriers will dampen traveller sentiment, which
already displays some weakness. In a February poll of travellers, 58% said that
they would travel less for leisure once the pandemic is contained. The same poll
saw 62% of business travellers say they would be travelling less.

Convenience

In addition to dramatically shorter processing times for
antigen testing when compared to PCR, the report also pointed to the scarcity
of PCR tests. Current spare PCR testing capacity in the UK, for example, would
cover only 25% of 2019 passenger levels. This could cause bottlenecks as and
when passenger numbers rebound. Adding antigen testing as an acceptable option
would help to alleviate this.

‘When international travel reopens testing is likely to
remain part of the strategy for controlling Covid-19. The type of testing
regime chosen will make a difference in how quickly the travel industry
recovers. The choice of a rapid test would be a real boost to the global travel
and international business community, and our research shows it can be as
effective as other testing regimes and as effective as a ten-day quarantine,’
said Oxera Practice partner and head of aviation, Michele Granatstein.

“We are already seeing rapid testing becoming
commonplace in non-travel settings such as schools and workplaces. Extending
its use to travel is a logical step. Science backs this up. In real-world
conditions, antigen testing is as effective as PCR testing in reducing the risk
of cross-border transmission. Meanwhile, the cost and bureaucracy of PCR tests
add huge burdens to families and businesses looking to travel. These are
important considerations in preparing for a successful restart,” said de
Juniac.