◆ Antigenic tests for Covid-19 can give a result within 10 minutes on average.
◆ By offering them directly at the airport just before boarding, we can know if 100% of passengers are healthy.
◆ Interview with Xavier Tytelma, aeronautics expert at CGI Business Consulting.
Interview by Mr. Diao
Finances News Weekly: What are antigen tests?
Xavier Tytelma: Antigenic tests make it possible to detect the coronavirus, just like the PCR tests so far in force. The sampling method remains the same, since it involves collecting a sample from the patient’s nose with a kind of long cotton swab. Its big advantage is that it can provide a result in just 10 to 30 minutes, since we are not looking for the same proof of the presence of COVID: the RNA hidden within the virus itself in the case of the PCR test, the proteins which are on its surface for antigen testing. It took several months to develop this technique and validate its reliability, but it is now done: we are at 93% of the level of efficiency of PCR tests, which is very good in such a short time.
FNH: Today we are talking about the deployment of these tests within airports in order to revive airline activity. Is it feasible?
X. T. : Many countries have posed health barriers to entry into their territory, including the obligation to present a PCR test carried out within 72 hours before takeoff … The problem with this test is the uncertainty about the timeframe: the traveler does not know if he will receive his result on time because of the saturation of medical laboratories. I personally had to cancel a trip for lack of results obtained on time. Then there are these three days of waiting: you could very well contract the virus after having been tested and before boarding, and be sick despite a negative test.
By offering the antigen test directly at the airport just before boarding, we know that 100% of passengers are healthy and there is no longer any fear to have, neither on board the plane nor for the countries of destination. . This would make it possible to avoid the difficulties of PCR-tests (production of false documents, 72-hour limit, etc.) and to lift all restrictions, including border closures or quarantines.
FNH: Who would bear the costs of these tests? Could it be the companies, the airports or the travelers?
X. T. : The situation is not the same in all countries and this is already the case for PCR tests: in France, the test is free for all, reimbursement is only partial in Germany, the costs are based only on the traveler to Great Britain … It will probably be exactly the same for the antigen test. And, to my knowledge, travelers are not directly involved in any country. The cost therefore sometimes returns to the airports, sometimes to the companies, and often to the State. The advantage is that antigenic tests would cost 5 to 10 times less than PCR.
FNH: How can we imagine carrying out these tests while making it easier for travelers to pass through airports to avoid congestion?
X. T. : This is a real logistical challenge, because it is necessary both to have qualified staff and sufficient and intimate spaces … Passengers will have to arrive at the airport earlier, which requires having to set up a third waiting counter after securityrity and customs … But that does not really pose a problem in this period when the number of travelers is very low. On the other hand, it would be difficult to imagine the generalization of these tests if there were again several billion air travelers per year.
FNH: What do the various operators in the airline sector think of this solution today?
X. T. : Antigenic tests are demanded by all the actors of the sector, and it is especially the administrations which do not follow. The tests are available in number. Operators are often ready to deploy them sometimes at their own expense while awaiting a final agreement, but the authorities still do not recognize these tests and are unable to validate the deployment authorizations as quickly as desired. There is also the question of the countries of destination: today, only Italy recognizes antigenic tests from France … Hopefully this changes quickly, because the economic activity linked to air transport continues to grow. collapse and many families have been separated for too long. The problem today is the low number of countries that recognize these new tests, but this is expected to evolve quickly.
FNH: You indicated in an interview that airlines, even in a pre-crisis period of activity, would not be able to repay the debt currently contracted. Would it not be urgent to put in place solutions as quickly as possible, such as these antigenic tests in particular, in order to allow a resumption of activity as soon as possible?
X. T. : In Europe and the Maghreb, hardly any airline would be able to survive the crisis without help. The loans contracted should normally allow the aviation players to survive until the end of 2020, but the crisis is prolonged. The expected turnover for the sector will certainly still be at half of its 2019 level over the year 2021, perhaps even less if the health restrictions on travel remain unchanged … It will therefore require additional loans or direct aid if you want to avoid bankruptcy.
Before considering these extremes, the first priority is therefore to allow the sector to recover, and with it the entire economy handicapped by these restrictions. Antigen testing is probably a temporary solution until treatment or vaccine becomes available. They would already provide a lifeline to airlines, airports and indirectly to all their suppliers.