A study commissioned by a consortium of airlines, airports and aviation industry bodies has concluded Covid-19 testing can “enable a safe restart of international travel this summer” while limiting the risks posed by variants.
The study by economics consultancy Oxera and Edge Health, a specialist in health data, suggests a single antigen test on arrival “is as effective as a 10-day self-isolation period in reducing imported cases of Covid-19”.
It concludes a single test “could be appropriate for countries categorised as medium-risk, accounting for quarantine compliance”.
The authors of the report also suggest that a two-test process, combining antigen and PCR tests with a three-day quarantine period “could be effective for screening arrivals from countries with higher prevalence rates of Covid-19”.
They argue such a testing regime could fit with a traffic-light system designating countries as green, amber or red, or low, medium and high-risk, for the purposes of international travel.
A traffic light system is among the ideas being considered by the government’s Global Travel Taskforce on restarting travel which is due to report on April 5, a week earlier than previously stated following an announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday.
The Oxera-Edge Health report, based on new modelling of US and EU passenger data in 2020, has been submitted to the taskforce.
It is the latest in a series of reports by Oxera and Edge Health commissioned by Virgin Atlantic, British Airways parent IAG, Heathrow, Manchester Airports Group and Iata.
These have questioned the scientific basis of the UK government’s policy on border restrictions and Covid-19 testing of travellers.
The latest report suggests the government has underestimated the effectiveness of a single antigen test.
Airlines and airports are keen to see the adoption of antigen tests for travellers as these are much quicker and cheaper to administer than laboratory-based PCR tests.
However, scientists continue to question the sensitivity of antigen tests in comparison to PCR tests.
Michele Granatstein, Oxera partner and head of aviation, said: “Our analysis of the effectiveness of different quarantine and testing strategies shows the UK government can safely restart international travel at scale while tailoring test requirements and restrictions on a country-by-country basis.”
Edge Health director George Batchelor argued: “Given the success of the UK vaccination programme, any restrictions should be targeted at reducing the potential import of variants of concern.
“Our modelling demonstrates that a single antigen test for medium-risk countries and dual-test approach for higher risk countries, combined with three-day quarantine, could be an effective strategy to protect public health while removing a 10-day quarantine.”
Virgin Atlantic chief executive Shai Weiss said: “We believe international travel can safely restart at scale using a risk-based, phased easing of testing requirements and border restrictions.
“Applied to the government’s proposed traffic-light framework, this new modelling by Oxera and Edge Health demonstrates how robust and proportionate testing strategies can be applied to amber and red countries, protecting public health by reducing imported infections and capturing variants of concern early through genomic sequencing.”
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