Rapid Testing Will Bring Back Travel Faster Than A Vaccine


Ben Baldanza Contributor
Aerospace & Defense
I write about airlines and travel to explain this crazy industry.

The exciting news from Pfizer PFE  about their successful Covid vaccine is encouraging for the return of gathering and travel. But this, or any other vaccine, is far from a silver bullet as travel demand recovery needs more than this to fully rebound. The issues with a vaccine extend beyond just access, but also acceptance. Is it clear that, properly vaccinated, one cannot still spread the virus, for example? How many people will take the vaccine? Taking this down to a single travel decision or a government policy on quarantines makes it difficult to think that an effective vaccine helps push this far enough.

What travel really needs is a five minute or less test that is low cost, easy to administer and gives accurate results. There are companies working on this now.

Let’s start with an airplane. A quick test would allow everyone to test at the airport or earlier, and know that everyone boarding the plane has tested negatively. Obviously, a well distributed vaccine will help this as it will increase the likelihood of more people testing negative. You may miss having that seat next to you empty for comfort purposes, but wouldn’t have to think that you were compromising safety as a result.

Now consider a theme park. These are mostly outdoor, and make it easier with masks and distancing to participate even today. But if you knew that everyone in the park had tested negatively, wouldn’t that make the day less stressful and easier to navigate? Again, vaccines help but don’t give this level of confidence. Consider how you might answer this simple question:

When considering going out to eat at a restaurant, would you prefer:

A. To know that you are vaccinated and therefore not likely to get the virus during this visit, or

B. Know that everyone eating in that restaurant while you are there has just tested negative for the virus

I would expect a huge percentage of people would answer B, and while this makes sense individually it also is why accurate and fast testing would likely push regulators and governments to relax quarantines and limits. It would be hard for NY, for example, to easily reduce their quarantine and testing protocols, and now 10pm curfews, just from knowing that a vaccine is available but without any mandate for everyone to actually take it. Also, even at a terrific 90% effectiveness, that’s not 100% so policymakers would have to consider that too. Compare that to saying “if everyone is tested before entering the bar, stay open as long as you want as long as you don’t let in anyone who tests positively” is easier to justify and police.

Vaccines are great and the sooner the better for everyone, with good encouragement for taking them and easy access for all. Rapid testing, low cost, easy to administer, and 5-minute or less results is the better gateway back to life as we once knew it. For travel companies and those who rely on travel for their businesses, this is the push the industry needs.

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