Airlines want quick $10 Covid-19 test to replace quarantine in bid to kick-start international travel

24-Sep-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Airlines want international travellers to take a quick $10 Covid-19 test at the airport, removing the need for the quarantine measures they say are killing the industry.

The International Air Transport Association has thrown its weight behind a 15-minute test it hoped would be ready “in the coming weeks”, citing health care firms Roche, and Abbott, who have developed rival kits.

Calling for systematic testing at departure airports, Alexandre de Juniac, the association’s director general, said the mass testing could “save the winter season” and warned the recovery in air travel had stalled.

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“We fully understand the need for protection for the population against reimporting the virus, that is why we are proposing Covid-19 systematic testing at the departure airport as an alternative to quarantine,” de Juniac said.

The association said pre-departure testing would capture virtually all virus cases, tackling imports, poor quality test control, and fraudulent results.

Hong Kong has faced repeated issues with travellers arriving from India and the Philippines, both of which are classed as high-risk countries because of soaring coronavirus cases.

Travellers must take a saliva test at least 48 hours before departure and show negative results, but scores of imported cases have raised suspicions over faked results and unreliable testing equipment.

As a result, two airlines have been punished by Hong Kong for flying over Covid-19 passengers. Air India has been banned twice, and Cathay Dragon’s Kuala Lumpur route has also been suspended.

By rolling out virus tests for all, the airline body said there was a 0.023 per cent chance of a Covid-19 passenger slipping through the travel net, such was its confidence in new rapid antigen tests.

Hong Kong presently favours slower real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests, which have produced more accurate results.

A lacklustre summer has hurt an industry already crippled financially by the decline in global travel, and scores of airlines face a challenging winter, according to IATA chief economist Brian Pearce.

“We’ve not seen the travel restrictions coming down or passengers returning, so clearly I think we are in for a much weaker fourth quarter for airlines, and that’s going to be a challenge because it’s not typically a strong quarter for cash flow so it’s difficult times ahead,” he said.

The IATA said its next steps were to get governments at the United Nations’ aviation agency, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, to endorse its proposal.

But airlines face an uphill battle to get any kind of agreement with more countries, including in Europe, facing a second wave of Covid-19 cases.

On Tuesday, public health experts in Hong Kong urged authorities to add Britain, France, Spain and Russia to its list of high-risk countries.

Hong Kong is developing travel bubbles on a bilateral basis as its preferred path to restarting air travel, and the government said it was talking with 11 countries. Pre-departure testing and reduced quarantine appear to be part of the discussion.


Category: Hong Kong

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