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IATA warns governments on high cost of testing

The WHO’s International Health Regulations state that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to take action to address the high cost of Covid-19 tests in many countries and urged flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests. IATA also recommended that governments adopt recent World Health Organization (WHO) guidance to exempt vaccinated travellers from testing requirements. 

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

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Urging governments to take a more active role in easing and consolidating travel restrictions, IATA director general Willie Walsh said: “IATA supports Covid-19 testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel. But 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.” 

The new generation of rapid tests cost less than US$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. In addition, where testing is a mandatory requirement, the WHO’s International Health Regulations state that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing.

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.

Restarting international travel is vital to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world that rely on aviation. Walsh added: “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.”

Visit www.iata.org for more information.

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