The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has urged governments to accept best-in-class rapid antigen tests in fulfilment of 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 can provide broadly comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travelers. The BinaxNOW antigen test, for example, misses just one positive case in 1000 travellers (based on an infection rate of 1% among travelers). And it has similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.
Processing times for antigen tests are 100 times faster than for PCR testing and the research also puts their cost at 60% less than PCR tests.
A family of four traveling from the U.K. to the Canary Islands will take a total of 16 tests at a total cost of around GBP1,600 or EUR1,850 – a premium of 160% on top of the average air fare. Meanwhile, a typical London-Frankfurt business trip sees a cost increase of 59% with the PCR test requirement. The modelling shows that based on five routes studied (London-New York, London-Frankfurt, U.K.-Singapore, U.K.-Pakistan and Manchester-Canary Islands) the cost impact of PCR testing will reduce demand by an average of 65%.
Testing requirements are currently fragmented, which is confusing to travelers. Moreover, many governments do not allow rapid testing. If the only options available for travelers are PCR tests, these come with significant costs disadvantages and inconvenience. And in some parts of the world, PCR testing capacity is limited, with first priority correctly given to clinical use.
In addition to dramatically shorter processing times for antigen testing when compared to PCR, the report also pointed to the scarcity of PCR tests. Current spare PCR testing capacity in the U.K., for example, would cover only 25% of 2019 passenger levels. This could cause bottlenecks as and when passenger numbers rebound. Adding antigen testing as an acceptable option would help to alleviate this.
‘When international travel reopens testing is likely to remain part of the strategy for controlling COVID. The type of testing regime chosen will make the difference in how quickly the travel industry recovers. 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.