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Published on Wednesday, March 31, 2021

IATA calls for global acceptance of rapid tests to restart travel

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to accept best-in-class rapid antigen tests for Covid -19 testing requirements following the publication of new research.

The OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by IATA, found that antigen tests are accurate and the best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travelers.

They are also more convenient with processing times 100 times faster than for PCR testing.

Antigen tests are also on average, 60% cheaper than PCR tests.

"Restarting international aviation will energize the economic recovery from Covid-19. Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to re-open their borders to travelers," said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA's Director General and CEO.

IATA says testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travelers and many governments do not allow rapid testing.

If the only options available for travelers are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience, IATA says.

Moreover, in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.

"Travelers 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 harmonization of acceptable standards."

The report found the cost of PCR testing can completely alter the economics of travel.

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%.

It says financial barriers will dampen traveler sentiment which already displays some weakness.

In a February poll of travelers, 58% said that they will travel less for leisure once the pandemic is contained. The same poll saw 62% of business travelers say they would be traveling less.

"When international travel reopens testing is likely to remain part of the strategy for controlling Covid. The type of testing regime chosen will make the difference in how quickly the travel industry recovers," said Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head of its Aviation Practice.

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