New research supports rapid tests for a safe restart of air travel

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New research supports rapid tests for a safe restart of air travel
Tue March 30, 2021

IATA urged governments to accept the best rapid antigen tests in compliance with COVID -19 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 results broadly comparable to PCR tests to accurately identify infected travelers. The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, only detects one positive case in 1000 travelers (based on a 1% infection rate among travelers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests at false negative levels.
Convenient - Antigen test processing times are 100 times faster than PCR tests
Cost-effective - Antigen tests are, on average, 60% cheaper than PCR tests.

“Restarting international aviation will drive the economic recovery from COVID-19. Along with vaccines, testing will play a critical role in giving governments the confidence to reopen their borders to travelers. For governments, the highest priority is precision. But travelers will also need tests to make them convenient and affordable. The OXERA-Edge Health report tells us that best-in-class antigen tests can check all of these boxes. It is important that governments consider these findings when planning for a restart, ”said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA Director General and CEO.

Testing requirements are currently fragmented, confusing travelers. Also, many governments do not allow rapid tests. If the only options available to travelers are PCR testing , these have significant cost disadvantages and drawbacks. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity  is limited, and priority is correctly assigned to clinical use.

“Travelers need options. Including antigen testing among the acceptable tests will certainly enhance recovery. And the EU specification of acceptable antigen tests provides a good basis for a broader international harmonization of acceptable standards. Now we need governments to implement these recommendations. The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, affordable and available to virtually all prospective travelers, ”de Juniac said.

If rapid tests are not an option for travelers, it creates significant cost and convenience barriers. The OXERA-Edge Health report presented the following analysis:

  • The cost of PCR testing can completely disrupt 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 £ 1,600 or EUR 1,850, a 160% premium over the average airfare.
  • A typical business trip from London to Frankfurt sees a cost increase of 59% with the requirement of the PCR test.
  • The model 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 slow down traveler sentiment, which is already showing some weakness. In a traveler survey conducted in February, 58% said they will travel less for pleasure once the pandemic is contained. In the same survey, 62% of business travelers said they would travel less.

In addition to the dramatically shorter processing times for antigen testing compared to PCR , the report also noted the paucity of PCR testing . Current spare PCR testing capacity in the UK, for example, would cover only 25% of 2019 passenger levels. This could cause bottlenecks as passenger numbers increase. Adding antigen testing as an acceptable option would help alleviate this.
"When international travel reopens, testing is likely to remain part of the strategy to control COVID. The type of testing regimen chosen will make a difference in how quickly the travel industry recovers. The choice of a rapid test would be a real boost for the global international business and travel community, and our research shows that it can be as effective as other test regimens and as effective as a ten-day quarantine, "said Michele Granatstein, partner at Oxera and responsible for your aviation practice.
“We are already seeing rapid tests becoming commonplace in non-travel settings such as schools and workplaces. Extending its use to travel is a logical step. Science backs this up. Under real-world conditions, antigen testing is as effective as PCR testing in reducing the risk of cross-border transmission. Meanwhile, the cost and bureaucracy of PCR testing add enormous burdens on families and businesses looking to travel. These are important considerations in preparing for a successful restart, ”de Juniac said.

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