IATA urges antigen tests to facilitate restart of international air travel

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) urged governments to accept antigen tests to better facilitate safe and efficient restart of international air travel.

IATA’s call is based on the publication of new research by OXERA and Edge Health, which found that antigen tests are accurate, convenient and cheaper than reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-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. For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travelers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.

According to IATA, testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travelers. The agency also noted that in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) antigen tests can be used for screening testing in high-risk congregate settings in which repeat testing could quickly identify persons with a SARS-CoV-2 infection to inform infection prevention and control measures, thus preventing transmission.

“The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and practically available to all prospective travelers,” said de Juniac.

An IATA analysis showed that the cost of PCR COVID-19 tests can scare potential travelers from using air travel.

The body gave an example of a family of four traveling from the U.K. to the Canary Islands, which would have to take a total of 16 tests at a total cost of around GBP1,600 – a premium of 160% on top of the average air fare.

By this modelling, a typical London-Frankfurt business trip could see a cost increase of 59% with the PCR test requirement. This would in turn reduce demand for air travel by an average of 65%.

IATA noted that replacing PCR with antigen testing would still have a cost impact on demand, but at 30%.

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