Coronavirus: Airlines are calling for rapid Covid testing for international travel


Airlines are calling for rapid Covid testing as the standard for international travelers to ‘reopen’ the industry.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) union has published research claiming that using rapid tests could work just as well as a ten-day quarantine policy.

And it said the cost and time required to use the right lab-based PCR tests to test travelers would keep the vacation industry on its knees.

A family of four could get a £ 1,600 test bill to use privately bought tests, the IATA said, warning that this could cut passenger numbers by two-thirds.

However, rapid swab tests were significantly cheaper and faster to run, and could help cut airlines’ losses by half, it suggested.

The IATA did not call for a total overhaul of the current policy of a 10-day, three-test quarantine, but wants the fast swabs to be accepted as standard by officials.

But rapid tests, currently used in schools, nursing homes and offices in the UK, are controversial as studies have shown they don’t work as well as PCR cotton swabs.

In general, the rapid tests are less sensitive, which means that they are more likely to fail to detect when someone is infected with Covid, compared to lab tests.

IATA, which represents 290 major airlines, including British Airways, TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Condor, commissioned the study by consultancy firms Oxera and Edge Health.

The IATA, which represents 290 major airlines, including British Airways, TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Condor, is calling for rapid tests to be standard for international travelers this summer, rather than laboratory tests (photo: Condor planes on a runway in Düsseldorf, Germany)

The IATA, which represents 290 major airlines, including British Airways, TUI, Virgin Atlantic and Condor, is calling for rapid tests to be standard for international travelers this summer, rather than laboratory tests (photo: Condor planes on a runway in Düsseldorf, Germany)

Oxera’s Michele Granatstein said, “The choice of a rapid test would be a real boost to the global travel and international business world, and our research shows that it can be as effective as other testing regimes and as effective as a 10-day quarantine. ‘

The report claimed that sticking to PCR testing could cut holiday demand by 65 percent due to the massive costs involved, which could potentially cost more than £ 300 per person per trip to follow UK rules .

Allowing rapid tests could cut losses by up to 30 percent and allow more people to afford to travel, the IATA said.

Union CEO Alexandre de Juniac added: “We are already seeing rapid tests become commonplace in non-travel situations such as schools and workplaces.

Expanding its use for travel is a logical step. Science supports this.

In real-life conditions, antigen tests are as effective as PCR tests to reduce the risk of cross-border transmission.


A study published in British Medical Journal The Lancet suggested that using rapid Covid tests the day someone traveled could detect 86 percent of coronavirus cases.

The research was conducted by Stanford and the University of California, San Francisco, based on a made-up scenario involving 100,000 travelers.

Using estimates of how well tests work, the study estimated that testing someone with a PCR cotton swab before traveling would identify 88 percent of people who could have traveled with an active Covid infection.

By doing the same with a quick test on the day of departure, 86 percent of infected people would be detected, it found.

The accuracy of the rapid test meant that the number of days people could be contagious but unnoticed dropped by 32 percent.

In comparison, the more accurate – but more expensive and more difficult – PCR test reduced the number of contagious days by 36 percent.

Dr. Nathan Lo said, “Getting tested before you travel and often after you travel can really reduce the risk of COVID in air travel,” Skift reported.

But Dr. Waleed Javaid, a professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, added: plane? ‘

Meanwhile, the cost and bureaucracy of PCR testing is a huge burden for families and businesses wanting to travel. These are important considerations in preparing for a successful reboot. ‘

It is currently illegal to travel abroad for a vacation, but people with government-approved reasons are allowed to fly.

However, they must follow specific rules when they return to Great Britain, quarantine for 10 days and be tested twice after arriving in England, as well as once before.

During quarantine, people are not allowed to leave the place where they are staying, meet no one there, or see visitors who have not traveled with them.

People must test negative for Covid before boarding the plane and then again on the second and then eight days of the quarantine.

Currently, all of these tests must be PCR tests where the nose and throat swab is sent to a lab to be examined with high-quality machines. It can take two or more days for a result to be returned, and the tests can cost over £ 100 at a time.

The IATA is now calling on the government to allow the use of rapid tests, which are cheaper and faster – taking about 15 minutes and costing £ 10-20.

The Oxera and Edge Health study looked at previous scientific studies on how well different rapid tests work.

Looking at the number of ‘contagious days’ a test could cover, the report said PCR tests were more accurate, but only by a small margin.

A contagious day was described as a day when a traveler would have the virus if infected. It usually stays in the body for up to two weeks in people who develop symptoms. 100 percent coverage would suggest that a test wouldn’t miss any cases if it worked properly.

The report said a PCR test would cover 72 percent of the contagious days upon arrival because it was so sensitive that it would pick up the virus in most parts of a person’s contagious period, save for a few days at the beginning and end.

For a rapid test – also called an antigen test – this dropped to 63 percent.

But the report said, “The differences in performance between PCR and antigen tests are further narrowing with the introduction of a post-arrival quarantine period.

A PCR test three days after arrival screens 79 percent of infectious days compared to 75 percent for antigen, and PCR and antigen tests both screen 74 percent of infectious days five days after arrival.

“Importantly, an antigen test performed on departure screens, 62 percent of infection days, is a comparable ratio to a quarantine requirement of ten days (the current requirement in the UK) when the quarantine requirements are taken into account.”

The report was published on the website of the IATA