Affordable, single rapid antigen tests prior to departure are as effective at controlling COVID-19 as more expensive and time-consuming PCR tests – or quarantines currently enforced by countries like Canada.
That is the finding of a study commissioned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Based on findings from the OXERA-Edge Health report it commissioned, IATA is urging governments to accept rapid antigen tests over expensive and time-consuming PCR testing and their associated quarantine waiting times.
“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,’ said Michele Granatstein, Partner at Oxera and Head of its Aviation Practice.
“For governments, the top priority is accuracy. But travelers will also need tests to be convenient and affordable. It’s important for governments to consider these findings as they make plans for a re-start,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
“The cost of PCR testing can completely alter the economics of travel,” the survey report states. It asserts that rapid – and inexpensive- antigen tests can fuel the return to air travel, whereas more expensive, time-consuming tests and restrictions like quarantines will continue to quash bookings.
The report found that the rapid antigen tests are:
- Accurate: the best antigen tests provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travellers.
- Convenient: processing times for antigen tests is 100 times faster than for PCR testing.
- Cost-efficient: antigen tests are, on average, 60 per cent cheaper than PCR tests.
“Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to reopen their borders to travellers,” said de Juniac.
IATA’s science-based recommendation is something that Canada’s airlines have been saying since the beginning of the pandemic.
“We have said from the outset that a combination of testing and shorter quarantines would be much more effective in managing COVID-19 and protecting communities than 14-day quarantines and other blanket travel restrictions for everyone,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told the Toronto Star last month.
Rapid testing trials at airports in Toronto and Calgary have led to similar conclusions as the IATA-backed study.
Mike McNaney, president of the National Airlines Council of Canada, has said that the country’s airlines need a recovery plan that is “based on science and safety. Rapid antigen testing needs to be a part of that.”
IATA concluded that current testing requirements are highly fragmented, which is confusing to travellers, says IATA. It added that many governments do not allow rapid testing, using PCR testing instead, but these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience. In some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.
“Travellers need options. Including antigen testing among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery. The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and practically available to all prospective travellers,” said de Juniac.