The cost of PCRs opens a new controversy
Although the Covid-19 pandemic is still going through, different scenarios are being discussed regarding the costs of the tests, which in many cases exceed the price of a ticket
With the advance of vaccination and the boreal summer looming on the horizon, the travel and tourism industry is clamoring to resolve details that can make a difference with last-minute government decisions. Different reports indicate that demand is recovering at an important rate, especially in the domestic market. It is clear that the international market needs changes to get off the ground.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) called on governments to ensure that the high costs of COVID-19 testing do not put travel out of reach for people. To facilitate an efficient restart of international travel, COVID-19 testing must be affordable, timely, widely available, and effective.
An IATA survey of PCR testing costs in 16 countries showed wide variations by and within markets.
Of the surveyed markets, only France bears the cost of tests for travelers with state resources, thus complying with the recommendation of the World Health Organization.
Of the 15 markets where there is a cost for PCR testing, the average minimum price was $ 90, while the average maximum cost has been $ 208.
Even taking the average of the minimum costs, adding the PCRs to the average airfares dramatically increases the cost of flight for people. Before the crisis, the average one-way air ticket, including taxes and fees, was $ 200 (2019 data). A $ 90 PCR test increases the cost by 45% to $ 290. Adding another test on arrival and the cost increases by 90% to $ 380. Assuming two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost of an individual return trip could increase from $ 400 to $ 760.
The impact of COVID-19 testing costs on family travel is obviously even more severe. A trip for four people that used to be about $ 1,600 until the outbreak of the pandemic could now cost about $ 3,040, with $ 1,440 going to pay for testing.
“As travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, we see strong demand. The same can be expected in international markets. But that could be dangerously compromised by the costs of testing, particularly PCR testing. Increasing the cost of any product will significantly stifle demand. The impact will be greater for short-haul trips (up to 1,100 km), with average fares of $ 105, the tests will cost more than the flight. That is not what you want to propose to travelers as we emerge from this crisis. Testing costs need to be better managed. This is essential if governments want to save jobs in tourism and transport; avoid limiting travel freedom for the rich, ”said Willie Walsh, IATA Director General.
The International Health Regulations of the World Health Organization stipulate that states should not charge for tests or vaccinations necessary for travel or for the issuance of certificates. The WHO COVID Emergencies Committee recently reiterated this position, calling on governments to reduce the financial burden for international travelers of complying with testing requirements and any other public health measures implemented by countries. Many states are ignoring their international treaty obligations, jeopardizing travel recovery and risking millions of livelihoods. High testing costs also incentivize the fake certificate market.
“The costs of testing should not come between people and their freedom to travel. The best solution is for the costs to be borne by the governments. It is your responsibility according to WHO guidelines. We must not allow the cost of testing, particularly PCR testing, to limit the freedom of travel to the wealthy or those who can get vaccinated. A successful travel restart means a lot to people, from personal job security to business opportunities to the need to see family and friends. Governments must act quickly to ensure that testing costs do not stop travel recovery, ”Walsh said.
Among the markets studied, France presents the best practice. It assumes the cost of the tests to facilitate the trip. The European Parliament is moving the continent of Europe in the right direction. Last week, he called for testing to be universal, accessible, timely and free throughout the EC.
“France and the European Parliament are helping to lead the way. We are in a health and economic emergency. Testing is part of the road to recovery. Therefore, it is the government's responsibility to ensure that the tests are accessible to all. If governments are not going to make testing free, they should at least ensure that testing companies don't make a profit at the expense of people who just want to get back to some form of normalcy in their life and travel habits. And that scrutiny should include governments themselves that, under no circumstances, should charge a tax for this critical service, "Walsh said.
The wide variation in testing costs should be reviewed across governments. "How is it possible that the minimum cost of a PCR test is $ 77 in Australia, but $ 278 in Japan, for example?" Walsh said. The Numbeo data indicates that the cost of living in Sydney, Australia and Tokyo, Japan is similar.
The markets covered in the IATA sampling were Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam. Not all of these markets require PCR testing. However, entry requirements for PCR testing in many states make the availability of affordable options everywhere critical to trip recovery.