Quarantine on arrival is a blunt instrument, and does nothing to stop the flow of Covid-19 from one country to another.
Some airports, such as Heathrow, have been pushing for testing on arrival to avoid quarantine, but the UK government says this is “only a point in time test” and that travellers may subsequently develop symptoms.
TravelSafe Systems (TSS) has been campaigning for many months for a multilateral approach to testing on departure.
TSS has a rapid point-of-care solution that comes in a portable, easy to carry case - the "lab in a box". It can be used at an airport for mass testing prior to entry to the airport.
It would ensure Covid-free "green zones" and Covid-free air corridors should countries agree to test all passengers moving between them.
The testing solution is a molecular genetic test that has a 20-year history of use in testing for pathogens, and is fully certified by the EU for use in Europe.
The "lab in a box" produces results within 45 minutes, which can be sent securely to a mobile application that can be integrated with airport and airline entry and boarding control systems.
Many countries now demand a negative test certificate at check-in, or on arrival. Paper test certificates can be forged, whereas the digital application provided by TSS – the iWarrant – provides a secure digital solution.
This certificate covers the traveller for up to 72 hours. This is based on the medical fact that an individual cannot infect others within this timeframe since they themselves were first infected.
If completed the day before or on the day of departure, testing ensures people are not infectious when they travel, creating safe "green zones" and flights for airport staff, crew and passengers – boosting confidence.
As a result, the travel experience inside the airport and on the aircraft would be more comfortable, with no requirement for masks and social distancing, or quarantining on arrival.
Obtaining PCR tests in some countries can be difficult and costly, ranging from £100 to £200 per test. The TSS test costs less than €40 (£35) and can be included in the air fare.
Currently, an on-arrival positive test means all passengers and crew must be traced and quarantined, placing the burden on the receiving country.
The most efficient way to stop the spread of the virus is to stop it at country borders. Countries should test on departure and stop those that test positive from travelling.
This would give fellow travellers peace of mind and it would, according to the ACI [Airport Council International] and Iata, decrease the risk of importation of the virus by at least 90%.
The government should set an example by testing all outbound travellers, and requiring reciprocal arrangements with other countries.
This protocol is to everyone’s benefit, saving a vital part of the global economy and providing logical protective containment of Covid-19.
Multilateral testing agreements, establishing Covid-free air corridors, would obviate the current unsatisfactory and highly damaging start-stop situation.
Governments must work together for economic recovery and, importantly, give the public the confidence to travel safely again.
Nigel Trim is co-chief executive and chief scientific officer of TravelSafe Systems.