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Airlines call for fast test to restore travel

A 'Fly Safe' pit stop at Heathrow. Airlines are now calling for all airports to introduce rapid testing on departure.

Global airlines are calling for rapid antigen testing in airports for all departing passengers in an attempt to end the quarantine deadlock.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) believes that if passengers are tested before departure this could replace the onerous quarantine measures currently in place in many areas of the world. It would also give passengers the confidence to board a plane without the worry of testing positive on landing. Tests could cost as little as US$7.

International travel has dropped more than 90% compared with 2019 levels. Some borders have reopened but a corresponding uptick in travel has been slow to materialise due to frequently changing pandemic travel requirements and quarantines.

IATA is now calling for the introduction of a fast, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate and scalable testing system to reestablish air travel. It says it’s hoping to work with the Civil Aviation Organisation and health authorities to achieve this goal as quickly as possible.

At the moment, travellers are being asked by certain countries to take a PCR laboratory-based test a number of hours before departure. However, there have been concerns recently that tests are being faked. Hong Kong in particular has received a number of travellers from India in recent weeks who, despite holding negative PCR medical certificates issued in the country of origin, are testing positive on arrival.

Rapid tests can be carried out on-the-spot as travellers are ready to board, which also mitigates the risk of them becoming infected in the time between taking the test and arriving at the airport.

“The key to restoring the freedom of mobility across borders is systematic COVID-19 testing of all travellers before departure,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and chief executive officer. “This will give governments the confidence to open their borders without complicated risk models that see constant changes in the rules imposed on travel. Testing all passengers will give people back their freedom to travel with confidence. And that will put millions of people back to work.”

IATA is backing a 15-minute test by pharmaceutical company Roche & Abbott which, it says, could be rolled out in the coming weeks. By using such tests, IATA says there is a 0.023% chance of an infected passenger slipping through the net.

According to Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper, infectious disease experts in the city believe local authorities “could consider” accepting such tests for the mandatory pre-departure testing of travellers from high-risk places. However, there was no mention of testing replacing Hong Kong’s current 14-day mandatory quarantine.


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