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IATA urges governments to reduce high costs of Covid-19 testing

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has again called on governments to take steps to reduce the cost of Covid-19 testing.

IATA calls for "flexibility in permitting the use of cost-effective antigen tests as an alternative to more expensive PCR tests"

The association also recommended the adoption of recent WHO guidelines "to consider exempting vaccinated travelers from screening requirements."

A recent IATA survey showed that while 86% of respondents are willing to be tested, 70% feel that cost is a major barrier to travel, and 78% think that governments should cover the cost of mandatory testing.

The new generation of rapid tests cost less than 9 euros per test. Provided that a confirmatory PCR-RT test is administered in case of positive results, WHO guidelines consider the Ag-RDT antigen test an acceptable alternative to PCR. And, where testing is mandatory, the WHO International Health Regulations (IHR) state that neither passengers nor carriers should bear the cost of testing.

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.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director General

Data from the UK government confirms that international travelers pose little to no risk of importing COVID-19 compared to existing levels of infection in the country. At the very least therefore, the UK government should follow WHO guidance and accept antigen tests which are fast, affordable and effective, with a confirmatory PCR test for those who test positive. This could be a pathway for enabling even unvaccinated people access to travel.

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

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