The IATA has called on governments to ensure that Covid-19 testing be kept affordable as well as timely, widely available and effective, in order to facilitate an efficient restart of international travel.
With many states imposing inbound requirements for PCR testing, the availability of affordable options everywhere is critical for a travel recovery, said the airline body.
An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations by markets and within markets.
The 16 markets were Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Thailand, the UK, the US, and Vietnam. Not all these markets require PCR testing.
Of the markets surveyed, only France complied with the WHO recommendation for the state to bear the cost of testing for travellers.
Of the 15 markets where there is a cost for PCR testing to the individual, the average minimum cost for testing was US$90, while the average maximum cost for testing was US$208.
Even taking the average of the low-end costs, adding PCR testing to average airfares would dramatically increase the cost of flying for individuals, noted IATA.
Pre-crisis, the average one-way airline ticket, including taxes and charges, cost US$200 (2019 data). A US$90 PCR test raises the cost by 45 per cent to US$290. Add another test on arrival and the one-way cost would leap by 90 per cent to US$380. Assuming that two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost for an individual return-trip could balloon from US$400 to US$760.
The impact of the costs of Covid-19 testing on family travel would be even more severe. Based on average ticket prices (US$200) and average low-end PCR testing (US$90) twice each way, a journey for four that would have cost US$1,600 pre-Covid, could nearly double to US$3,040 – with US$1440 being testing costs.
“As travel restrictions are lifted in domestic markets, we are seeing strong demand. The same can be expected in international markets. But that could be perilously compromised by testing costs – particularly PCR testing,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general.
“Raising the cost of any product this significantly will stifle demand. The impact will be greatest for short-haul trips (up to 1,100 km); with average fares of US$105, the tests will cost more than the flight. That’s not what you want to propose to travellers as we emerge from this crisis. Testing costs must be better managed. That’s critical if governments want to save tourism and transport jobs; and avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy.”
IATA further highlighted that the WHO’s International Health Regulations stipulate that states should not charge for testing or vaccination required for travel, or for the issuance of certificates.
The WHO COVID Emergency Committee recently reiterated this position, calling on governments to reduce the financial burden on international travellers of complying with testing requirements and any other public health measures implemented by countries.
Many states are ignoring their international treaty obligations, putting a travel recovery in jeopardy and risking millions of livelihoods. High testing costs also incentivise the market for fake certificates.
“Testing costs should not stand between people and their freedom to travel. The best solution is for the costs to be borne by governments. It’s their responsibility under WHO guidelines. We must not let the cost of testing – particularly PCR testing – limit the freedom to travel to the rich or those able to be vaccinated,” said Walsh.
“A successful restart of travel means so much to people – from personal job security to business opportunities and the need to see family and friends. Governments must act quickly to ensure that testing costs don’t stall a travel recovery.”