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Is the high cost of Covid-19 testing bad for governments? IATA thinks so

A COVID-19 test sample. File picture: Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay

A COVID-19 test sample. File picture: Fernando Zhiminaicela/Pixabay

Published Jul 23, 2021


The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has asked governments around the world to resolve the high cost of Covid-19 tests in many jurisdictions.

IATA also urged flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests, and recommended governments adopt recent World Health Organization (WHO) guidance to consider exempting vaccinated travellers from testing requirements.

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IATA’s recent traveller survey showed that 86% of respondents were willing to get tested. However, 70% also believed that the cost of testing is a significant barrier to travel, while 78% believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing.

Speaking on the topic, Willie Walsh, IATA’s director-general, said they support Covid-19 testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel.

"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 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.

Walsh said the new generation of rapid tests cost 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.

And, where testing is a mandatory requirement, the WHO’s International Health Regulations state that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing.

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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 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 existing 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 access to travel,” Walsh said.

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He said restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world 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,” Walsh said.

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