a person holding test tubes

Qatar Airways recently announced that it will serve 80 international destinations by the end of June, sending a resounding message that travel is down, but certainly not out. In fact, it’s rebooting a lot sooner than many naysayers presumed.

The question is: what hoops will you be willing to jump through to take part, many of which may infringe on your civil liberties. Would you trade a blood test for an international trip? How about a mandatory mask for your 17 hour flight?

Austria, Greece, Mexico, United Arab Emirates – these are just a few of the countries mulling the requirement of blood testing at borders, or a recent certificates of health before boarding a flight. In Austria, these swab tests can already be done on arrival, where a pass or fail result could mean 14 days of quarantine, or straight to the city depending which.

a beach with buildings and a body of waterDubai was the first to trial blood testing all passengers prior to flight, in a move which would provide greater certainty to border agents on the other side, with results delivered within minutes. The first question, of course, is what happens if you fail?

If you do pass, and are allowed to board – another new normal exists.

All US airlines require passengers to wear a mask on board, and now the Lufthansa group has followed suit. Following this trend, it’s all but assured to become a global standard. Ultimately, it’s a small price to pay to reach another country, but the knock on effects can add up, particularly when borders include new hurdles.

Austria now proactively offers testing to all arriving passengers, albeit at an expense of $210 per person for a swab. Hey, at least it’s not a blood test. A health certificate with a negative result from your point of origin would do in place, but would need to be done within 4 days of arrival.

A negative result for covid-19 and you pop into town, but a positive result with 14 days in quarantine is not exactly ideal, or even feasible for 99% of travelers.

A blood test is something healthy people put off when they’re not traveling, so anything short of a less invasive solution – aka one without a needle – is going to hamper any travel recovery efforts. Swab tests, which simply swab the inside of your mouth are far more promising.

This is precisely the elephant in the room discussion for when travel returns. Realistically – how many people are going to chance a trip, knowing a bad result could invalidate the trip altogether.

a black board with white text and yellow dotsMuch of the larger conversation centers around more pragmatic solutions, like allowing someone to board a plane and skip quarantine if they can provide a negative test taken within the last four days – but realistically flights were booked long before then.

What happens if you fail, and how do you create a globally accepted standard for testing?

If a traveler happens to test positive and is denied boarding, do they then eat the flights, or would airlines agree to a health exception and allow a later travel date. What about the hotels, or Airbnb’s? That’s a lot of risk on anyone’s balance sheet, and travel insurance providers haven’t made a strong case for themselves in recent months.

A leisure travel covid-19 testing setup, rather than the essential life saving side, could create revenue generators for doctors and lab testing clinics globally, which could shift away pressure on essential health services. Few people “need” to travel immediately, so offering a reasonably priced same day service could help health systems recoup some costs for those who want the magic piece of paper.

The counterpoint to all of this is that a lot can happen in four days, including on the plane ride over. This solution won’t ever catch out all covid-19 cases, but could be extremely helpful in flattening the curve and maintaining domestic health systems.

At what point do countries which pursued suppression, rather than eradication say “we’re all in basically the same boat, so we might as well lower the testing hurdles and just rely on masks and social distancing?”

The vast majority of countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas aimed for virus suppression, rather than eradication, whereas New Zealand and Iceland closed borders entirely to squash all cases, which both have now successfully done.

Travelers must make their own risk assessments before traveling anywhere, let alone internationally, but for low risk travelers the solution isn’t waiting for a world without covid-19, which potentially may never come, bur rather just one where it’s under reasonable control.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I think you mean swab testing in Vienna. Currently blood testing is only for antibodies so it would only work for people who have had COVID and its reliability is in question.
    If you can get a quick swab or saliva test at the airport then that may help.

  2. Sure! I’ll take a blood test prior to the flight and wear a mask for 17 hours. I’ll put that right over my burqa! I would look forward to getting stoned to death upon arrival as that legal punishment allowed in Qatar.

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