The government is “significantly underestimating” the effectiveness of airport testing for Covid-19, according to a new report.
While Public Health England (PHE) estimates that testing at airports would only detect 7% of coronavirus cases, research from Oxera and Edge Health concludes that this figure from PHE is based on “flawed methodology”.
The report says that passenger testing in airports could actually identify up to 63% of passengers who are infected with Covid-19, which significantly boosts the case for the introduction of airport testing and would help to alleviate the current quarantine restrictions currently stifling the UK travel industry.
George Batchelor, co-founder and director of Edge Health, said: “The way in which the PHE model is set up means that only a tiny proportion of infected passengers - those who become symptomatic or are asymptomatic but detectable by a PCR test during the flight - can be detected at arrival.
“This means the widely quoted 7% excludes anyone who is in theory detectable or symptomatic before the flight takes off. This evidently isn’t the case, and it leads to an underestimation of the effectiveness of testing on arrival (the 7% figure), raising serious questions about its role in informing government policy on passenger testing.”
Oxera and Edge Health are now submitting its analysis about the effectiveness of airport testing to the government’s Global Travel Taskforce, which is due to make recommendations to prime minister Boris Johnson in early November.
Shai Weiss, chief executive Virgin Atlantic, welcomed the research as it showed that airport testing was the “right solution” that needed to be implemented immediately.
“We urgently need the introduction of a passenger testing regime here in the UK to safely replace quarantine and support the UK’s economic recovery, which relies on free-flowing trade and tourism,” he added.
“Half a million UK jobs depend on a fully functioning aviation industry, therefore it’s vital that policy decisions are based on the latest possible evidence.
“The government’s Global Travel Taskforce should consider this new analysis closely and act on findings to swiftly implement a testing regime which opens up the skies safely and removes 14-day quarantine.
"The industry has already shown it can deliver passenger-funded, rapid, on site tests that do not divert vital NHS resources. We are ready to work together, but time is of the essence.”