IATA publishes criteria for testing for travellers

 

Should governments choose to introduce COVID-19 testing for travellers arriving from countries considered as high risk, IATA says that testing must deliver results fast, be able to be conducted at scale, and operate to very high rates of accuracy. Testing must be cost-effective and not create an economic or logistical barrier to travel.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has also published global guidance for governments to follow in reconnecting their people and economies by air. Takeoff outlines layers of measures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission during air travel and the risk of importation of COVID-19 via air travel.  It says  COVID-19 testing should not be a necessary condition for re-opening borders or resuming air services.

Technology for rapid point-of-care Polymerized Chain Reaction (PCR) testing could be a useful layer of protection for travellers from countries considered as higher risk, potentially removing the need for more burdensome and intrusive measures such as quarantine, which is a major barrier to travel and the recovery of demand.

As part of the travel process COVID-19 testing needs to be conducted by trained public health officials and meet the following criteria:

  • Speed: Testing results should be delivered quickly, with results available in under an hour as the minimum standard.
  • Scale: If testing takes place at the airport, testing capacity of several hundreds of tests per hour must be achievable. The use of saliva for taking samples rather than nasal or throat swabs would reduce time and improve passenger acceptance.
  • Accuracy: Extremely high accuracy is essential. Both false negative and false positive results must be below 1%. 

COVID-19 testing is best done in advance of arrival at the airport and within 24 hours of travel. Passengers arriving ready-to-fly reduces the risk of contagion in the airport and enables early re-accommodation for any traveller who tests positive. 

Any testing requirements should only be in place for as long as necessary. To ensure this, regular evaluations should be conducted.

Cost is an important consideration. Testing should facilitate travel and not provide an economic barrier. With testing at some European destinations costing in excess of US$200, this is a real concern. IATA supports the World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations that requires governments to bear the costs of mandatory health testing. Where a test is offered on a voluntary basis, it should be charged at cost price.

Ideally testing takes place prior to travel or at the point of departure and a positive result would mean that the passenger could not travel as planned.  In this case, airlines have been offering flexibility to consumers. This includes re-booking or refunds in line with the airline’s commercial policy.  Many airlines are offering the same flexibility to passengers who suspect that they have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 as well as members of the same travelling party, particularly when they are members of the same household.

If testing is mandated on arrival and a passenger tests positive, then the passenger should be treated according to the requirements of the receiving country. Airlines should not be required to repatriate passengers or punished with financial penalties such as fines or through operational penalties such as the withdrawal of the right to operate in the market.

PCR testing detects the presence of the virus in a person’s body (viral RNA) before antibodies form or symptoms of the disease are present. Serological testing for corona virus are not appropriate for purposes of facilitating travel as they detect the presence of antibodies to determine if a person has had the disease. Serological testing does not detect the disease before antibodies are produced.

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