Saturday, September 25, 2021

Covid test costs may exceed fares, deterring people from flying

This could jeopardise millions of jobs in tourism as the world seeks to recover from the pandemic.

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The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has called on governments to ensure that high costs for Covid-19 testing do not put travel out of reach for individuals and families.

To facilitate an efficient restart of international travel, Covid-19 testing must be affordable as well as timely, widely available and effective, the body argued.

An IATA sampling of costs for PCR tests (the test most frequently required by governments) in 16 countries showed wide variations.

Even taking the average of the low-end costs, adding PCR testing to average airfares would dramatically increase the cost of flying.

Pre-crisis, an average one-way short haul airline ticket, including taxes and charges, cost US$200 (2019 data).

A US$90 PCR test raises the cost by 45% to US$290.

Add another test on arrival and the one-way cost would leap by 90% to US$380.

Assuming that two tests are needed in each direction, the average cost for an individual return-trip could nearly double from US$400 to US$760.

The impact of the costs 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, and the same can be expected in international markets,” said Willie Walsh, IATA director-general.

“But that demand could be perilously compromised by testing costs – particularly PCR testing,” he said. “The impact will be greatest for short-haul trips of below 1,000km. With a fare of US$100, the tests will cost more than the flight.”

He warned, “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. Avoid limiting travel freedoms to the wealthy.”

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Health Regulations stipulate that states should not charge for testing or vaccination required for travel, or for the issuance of certificates.

Many states are ignoring their international treaty obligations, putting a travel recovery in jeopardy and risking millions of livelihoods, say analysts.

High testing costs also incentivise the market for fake certificates.

Of the markets surveyed by IATA, only France complied with WHO stipulation that the state bear the cost of testing for travellers.

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