Over the last year, governments have taken the necessary measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 by placing significant constraints on international travel, including bans on entry by non-citizens, quarantine (at home or in hotels), and testing.
The roll-out of vaccination programmes at scale will be key to facilitating the reopening of international travel. However, it is likely that a proportion of the population will remain unvaccinated and that countries will move at different speeds on vaccination programmes. As a result, testing is likely to be a part of governments’ strategies to reopen international borders, and at least some forms of testing may remain in place for international travel for some time.
At present, molecular tests, such as RT-PCR or RT-LAMP tests, are the most commonly used type of testing technology for international air travel, although antigen tests are increasingly being used across a number of jurisdictions. Molecular tests have high sensitivity, but take time to process and require significant infrastructure.
As mass vaccination builds confidence and passenger volumes start to return, the ability to test quickly and at scale with manageable costs is critical to the aviation sector’s future. The recent experience in the UK is that antigen testing has been used for HGV drivers, teachers, schoolchildren, and university students. Still, there has been reluctance to introduce the technology to aviation, principally based on how effective antigen testing is for identifying and preventing people with COVID-19 from infecting others.
This report explores the effectiveness, and economic and operational elements, of antigen testing for international air travel compared to other forms of testing, such as PCR and LAMP.