The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has blasted the “extortionate” cost of Covid-19 testing in many jurisdictions and the wildly disproportionate focus on testing when travelling internationally in relation to the actual threat level.

    The trade association, which represents 290 airlines and 82 per cent of total air traffic, said 70 per cent of travellers considered the cost of testing a “significant barrier” to travel. Some 78 per cent believe governments should bear the cost of mandatory testing, according to a survey conducted by IATA [which featured 4,700 travellers across 11 countries].

    IATA noted that in the UK, the latest National Health Service data on testing arriving travellers showed that more than 1.37 million tests were conducted on arrivals from “so-called Amber countries” – and just one per cent tested positive over four months.

    “Data from the UK government confirms that international travellers pose little to no risk of importing Covid-19 compared to existing levels of infection in the country,” said IATA’s director general. “At the very least therefore, the UK government should follow World Health Organization (WHO) guidance and accept antigen tests which are fast, affordable and effective, with a confirmatory PCR test for those who test positive.”

    IATA has called on governments to take action to address the high cost of Covid-19 tests in many jurisdictions, saying any support the association had for testing as a pathway to reopen borders to international travel “is not unconditional”.

    Testing needs to be reliable, easily accessible, affordable, and appropriate to the risk level, IATA said. It is not currently clear that any of these conditions are being met.

    “Too many governments are falling short on some or all of these [factors],” Walsh stated. The cost of testing varies widely between jurisdictions, with little relation to the actual cost of conducting the test. The UK is the poster child for governments failing to adequately manage testing. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate. And in either case, it is a scandal that the government is charging VAT.”

    IATA noted that restarting international travel is “vital” to supporting the 46 million travel and tourism jobs around the world that rely on aviation. “Our latest survey confirms that the high cost of testing will bear heavily on the shape of the travel recovery,” said Walsh. “It makes little sense for governments to take steps to reopen borders if those steps make the cost of travel prohibitive to most people. We need a restart that is affordable for all.”

    Willie Walsh
    Willie Walsh: “The UK is the poster child for governments failing to adequately manage testing. At best it is expensive, at worst extortionate”