IATA warns governments on COVID testing costs

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) recommended governments to take steps to reduce the high expense of COVID-19 tests in many jurisdictions, as well as to be flexible in allowing the use of less expensive antigen tests in lieu of more expensive PCR tests.

IATA also advised states to follow recent World Health Organization (WHO) advice and consider exempting vaccinated tourists from testing requirements. According to the most current IATA traveler survey, 86 percent of those polled are willing to be tested.

However, 70% agree that the expense of testing is a substantial impediment to travel, while 78% say that governments should shoulder the cost of mandated testing.

“The International Air Transport Association (IATA) supports COVID-19 testing as a means of reopening borders to international travel. However, our assistance is not unconditional. Testing must be accessible, inexpensive, and suitable to the risk level in addition to being reliable. Too many governments, however, fall short in one or more of these areas.

The cost of testing varies greatly between jurisdictions and bears no resemblance to the actual cost of administering the test. The United Kingdom is the poster child for governments failing to manage testing adequately.

It is, at best, expensive, and at worst, extortionate. And, in either situation, the government charging VAT is a scandal,” said Willie Walsh, director general of IATA.

The cost of the next generation of fast testing is less than $10 per test. As long as a confirmatory rRT-PCR test is performed for positive test findings, WHO considers Ag-RDT antigen testing to be an appropriate alternative to PCR.

Furthermore, where testing is required, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations (IHRs) state that neither passengers nor carriers should fund the cost of testing.

Testing must also be proportionate to the amount of threat. In the United Kingdom, for example, the most recent National Health Service figures on testing arriving visitors reveal that more over 1.37 million tests were performed on arrivals from so-called Amber nations.

Over a four-month period, only 1% tested positive. Meanwhile, approximately three times as many positive cases are found in the general community on a daily basis.

“Data from the UK government demonstrates that overseas tourists represent little to no danger of bringing COVID-19 into the country when compared to current levels of illness.

At the very least, the UK government should follow WHO recommendations and adopt antigen testing that are quick, inexpensive, and effective, with a confirming PCR test for individuals who test positive. This could pave the road for even unvaccinated people to travel,” Walsh added.

Resuming international travel is critical to supporting the 46 million travel and tourist jobs that rely on aviation worldwide. “Our most recent poll confirms that the high cost of testing will have a significant impact on the form of the travel recovery.

It makes little sense for governments to take steps to reopen borders if such steps make travel prohibitively expensive for the majority of people. “We need a fresh start that is affordable to everyone,” Walsh added.

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