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International push for pre-flight COVID testing strengthens

written by Hannah Dowling | September 23, 2020

Airlines around the world have renewed their call for governments to implement mandatory COVID-19 tests for all departing international travellers in lieu of border closures and quarantine requirements, which have been blamed for the ongoing air travel crisis.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is advocating for fast and affordable COVID-19 tests that can be administered by non-medical staff, which it argues are due to become available “in the coming weeks” due to rapidly advancing testing technologies.

These newly developed tests could see results within 15 minutes.

The association is pushing for governments and industry groups to support a global rollout of such testing technologies at airports, and to mandate the testing of all outgoing passengers prior to their departure. 

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said these tests could be done for as little as US$7 per test, and the association is already working with the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organisation to implement this solution globally.

“We don’t see any alternative solution that would be less challenging or more effective,” de Juniac said.

Should this solution be welcomed as soon as these rapid and inexpensive tests become available, there is still hope for a successful winter travel season for airlines, the IATA said.

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Improved conditions in the aviation sector would likely save millions of job, according to de Juniac, not just directly those who work in the airlines, but also in other industries such as tourism and hospitality.

“It will also boost passenger confidence that everybody on the aircraft has been tested,” de Juniac said.

Governments around the world would also need to come out in support of the measure, and officially recognise a negative COVID test as sufficient, to let travellers freely into their nation.

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Airlines have altered their position on pre-flight testing as new testing technology had come available. 

Previously, the IATA was encouraging governments to accept lab-based PCR tests conducted within 48 hours of departure, which some airlines and governments have adopted.

However, technology for near-immediate test results is currently in development, which the IATA argues should provide governments and travellers with more confidence.

Last-minute airport screening “seals off the system” against forged medical certificates or infections contracted just before travel, de Juniac said, making this method more effective than previous measures.

However, some have questioned the total accuracy provided by tests with such instantaneous results.

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