Pharmacy Boots have today announced today (26th October) that they will start to make a 12 minute COVID test available in select UK stores to people who are not showing symptoms.
Meanwhile last week Heathrow Airport announced pre-departure raid testing facilities in Terminals 2 and 5.
Is rapid testing the answer that international tourism has been looking for?
What are the Tests?
The Boots rapid test is a nasal swab test that can be taken in-store for £120 and are said to have an accuracy of between 97% and 98% and will be rolled out in a number of stores over the next few weeks.
The new rapid test follows a 48 hour test already available in 10 stores in major cities, with plans for up to 50 stores by the end of November. in their press release Boots stated that this test was available “for customers travelling to UAE.”
The Heathrow Rapid Tests, costing £80, aim to provide results within 60 minutes for departing passengers. The Heathrow Press Release states that the test will “initially offer passengers travelling to Hong Kong the option to fulfil those countries’ pre-departure testing requirements at the airport before they fly.”
Heathrow had previously announced an Test-on-Arrival testing service for passengers entering the country to enable passengers to reduce any quarantine period. This has yet to receive Government approval however.
All of these tests should only be taken by people who are not showing any symptoms as they should be isolating and accessing an NHS test.
Are Tests Accepted Elsewhere?
Very few countries are currently allowing UK residents to travel to their country and many of those require a negative PCR test with 72 hours of departure.
The Boots 12-minute test and Heathrow Rapid Test are not PCR tests as these require processing at a registered laboratory. They would therefore not be accepted by most countries requiring a test.
The Boots 48 hour test is sent to a laboratory for testing although it is not clear from their press release if it is registered and so would be accepted for travel.
Are Tests Accepted?
The fledgling Thailand Special Tourist Visa (STV), available only to residents of low-risk countries, requires a pre-arrival COVID-19 test followed by 2 in-country tests before visitors can leave their quarantined accommodation.
The Singapore Air Travel Pass (ATP), only available to residents of Australia (excluding Victoria State), Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand and Vietnam, requires a pre-travel negative test and isolation until a negative post-arrival test is received.
Are Tests the Answer?
It is a difficult question although the simple answer at the moment is no.
Due to the incubation period of COVID-19, a single test would not give a definitive result and so many countries will remain reluctant to allow people to travel from high-risk areas with just one test result.
Until more countries manage to control COVID domestically and the number of cases fall dramatically it seems that most countries, at least in Southeast Asia, will not be prepared to take the risk of allowing tourists to enter the country.
Many people have been saying that a vaccine is the only way to control the disease.
There is of course no guarantee that a safe and effective vaccine will be found. The Chinese vaccine was launched with minimal testing and has yet to be proven to be effective.
Many other vaccines are under development, some making bold claims about being ready to be rolled out before the end of 2020.
Even if that is true there are still major obstacles to be overcome.
Once a vaccine is approved, generally most countries have their own approval process, there would then need to be a decision by each country how vaccinations will be rolled out.
For the UK for example a mass vaccination of the population is estimated to take around 10 months and would prioritise the most vulnerable. Those wanting to access a vaccination for travel purposes would probably need to access a private vaccination, if they are available – there is no guarantee that the majority of vaccinations wouldn’t be purchased by governments resulting in very few, very expensive, vaccinations available privately.
The other question is how would countries without a free healthcare system deal with mass vaccinations? Would they be restricted to those who could afford private vaccinations or with health insurance?
The Tourist Industry
Of course there are other factors to take into account.
One of the most important is the economic impact of a lack of tourists for countries where tourism has become a major source of income.
Estimates suggest that around 20% of GDP in Thailand has been through tourism. How long will Thailand, and other countries with a similar proportion of tourist income, be able to afford to continue their strict restrictions on entry?
The longer the pandemic continues, the greater the impact on the tourism industry worldwide. We have already seen a number of large companies close due to the pandemic and many airlines are now struggling to continue and most are looking to downsize. Many hotels and other tourist businesses in-country are also likely to be struggling without foreign tourists.
Will the infrastructure for mass tourism still be there once countries feel able to open up again?
Will countries feel that they have no choice but to start opening their borders again once it looks like some controls are in place?
What is the Answer?
In all likelihood the re-opening of mass tourism in Southeast Asia will be reliant on a combination of factors.
There will be a balance between the controls that can be put in place, COVID testing and minimal if any quarantine, an effective vaccine and the economic impact of a prolonged closure to tourists.
Most countries will probably have to compromise and allow tourism before the situation has been brought under control.
Tourists from high-risk countries may continue to be banned from many countries as they target lower-risk tourism.
That is not good news for tourists from most of Europe and the USA.
What Is Your Opinion
We are very interested in what our readers think is the future of travel as the battle against COVID-19 continues. Leave a response in the comments section to continue the conversation.
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