COVID-19 testing should not be a necessary condition for re-opening borders or resuming air services, however, as ICAO has published Takeoff, which 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.
Technology for rapid point-of-care Polymerized Chain Reaction (PCR) testing could be a useful layer of protection for travelers 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.
“Airlines are committed to reducing the risks of COVID-19 transmission via air travel and COVID-19 testing could play an important role. But it must be implemented in line with ICAO’s global restart guidance with the aim of facilitating travel. Speed, scale and accuracy are the most critical performance criteria for testing to be effectively incorporated into the travel process,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s Director General and CEO.
Ideally COVID-19 testing would be required 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 traveler who tests positive.
If testing is required as part of the travel process, it is recommended at departure. Governments would need to mutually recognize test results and data transmission should take place directly between passengers and governments in a similar manner as e-visa clearances are currently handled.
Should a passenger test positive, 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 traveling 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 State. Airlines should not be required to repatriate the passenger(s) or punished with financial penalties such as fines or through operational penalties such as the withdrawal of the right to operate in the market.
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 as testing at some European destinations costs in excess of $200. World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations 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.