(30 Mar 2021)
IATA is urging governments to accept best-in-class
rapid antigen tests in fulfillment of COVID19 testing requirements
following the publication of new research by OXERA and Edge
Health.

The OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by
IATA, found that antigen tests are:

Accurate: The best antigen tests provide broadly
comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected
travellers. The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one
positive case in 1000 travellers (based on an infection rate of 1%
among travellers). And it has similarly comparable performance to
PCR tests in levels of false negatives.

Convenient: Processing times for antigen tests are
100 times faster than for PCR testing.

Cost-Efficient: Antigen tests are, on average, 60%
cheaper than PCR tests.

Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900 reg: 9V-SMH. Picture by Steven Howard of TravelNewsAsia.com Click to enlarge.

“Restarting international aviation will energize
the economic recovery from COVID19,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s
Director General and CEO. “Along with vaccines, testing will play
a critical role in giving governments the confidence to re-open
their borders to travellers. For governments, the top priority is
accuracy. But travellers will also need tests to be convenient and
affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report tells us that the
best-in-class antigen tests can tick all these boxes. It’s
important for governments to consider these findings as they make
plans for a re-start.”

Testing requirements are currently fragmented,
which can be confusing for travellers. Moreover, many governments do not
allow rapid testing. If the only options available for travellers
are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and
inconvenience. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing
capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to
clinical use.

“Travellers need options,” said de Juniac.
“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. We now need
to see governments implement these recommendations. The goal is to
have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective,
financially accessible, and practically available to all
prospective travellers.”

With regards to cost and convenience, the OXERA-Edge Health report presented the following analysis:

– The cost of PCR testing can completely alter the
economics of travel. A family of four traveling from the UK to the
Canary Islands will take a total of 16 tests at a total cost of
around GBP1,600 or EUR1,850 – a premium of 160% on top of the
average air fare.

– 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%. Replacing PCR
with antigen testing would still have a cost impact on demand, but
at 30%.

Financial barriers will dampen traveller sentiment
which already displays some weakness. In a February poll of
travellers, 58% said that they will travel less for leisure once
the pandemic is contained. The same poll saw 62% of business
travellers say they would also be traveling less.

In addition to dramatically shorter processing
times for antigen testing when compared to PCR, the report also
pointed to the scarcity of PCR tests. Current spare PCR testing
capacity in the UK, for example, would cover only 25% of 2019
passenger levels. This could cause bottlenecks as and when
passenger numbers rebound. Adding antigen testing as an acceptable
option would help to alleviate this.

Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head
of its Aviation Practice, said, “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. The choice of a rapid
test would be a real boost to the global travel and international
business community, and our research shows it can be as effective
as other testing regimes and as effective as a ten-day
quarantine.”

See also:
IATA Travel Pass – Exclusive
Video Interview with Vinoop Goel

[embedded content]

Editor’s note:
As the above video interview was conducted over the internet, I
would like to apologise that the audio and visual quality are not
up to the same HD/UHD quality that it normally would be. Hopefully it won’t be too
long until we are once again conducting exclusive video interviews
in person, but for now we have to make do with what we have. Thank
you.

See latest

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