There are renewed calls for governments to urgently agree a framework for rapid pre-departure COVID-19 testing after it emerged that some passengers are faking certificates from private suppliers to board flights. A number of countries demand passengers present a negative test certificate dated within 48 to 96 hours before departure to allow entry. The test can sometimes unlock mandatory quarantine or be combined with a shortened period of self-isolation.
“It is quite simple. Everyone knows someone who has had a Covid test,” said one man who had doctored a test certificate in order to fly to Pakistan. “You can simply get their negative test and change the name and birthdate to your own,” the man told the Lancashire Telegraph.
“You also put a test date on which is within the time limit required,” he continued. “You download the email, change it and then print it.”
In some cases, criminals are creating bogus test certificates on demand. Prices for the fake documents range from $65 to $196. The cost is similar to actually having a test, notwithstanding the fact that someone paying for a fake certificate might be unwittingly travelling while infected with COVID-19 and putting other passengers at risk.
Dubai was one of the first destinations to require pre-departure testing within 72 hours of travel when the emirate reopened to tourists back in July. In the United States, the state of Hawaii now allows visitors to escape quarantine by taking a pre-departure COVID-19 test.
Several airlines, including United, Hawaiian, American Airlines and jetBlue are facilitating the process for travellers by offering a combination of at-home, drive-through and in-airport testing from reputable healthcare providers. Passengers are, however, free to get a test from another supplier of their choosing.
Calls from the airline industry to introduce harmonized and coordinated protocols for systematic pre-departure testing are being led by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). The industry body wants governments to agree on a range of rapid tests that would lift travel restrictions and unlock quarantine requirements.
Polling commissioned by IATA found around 88 per cent of travellers would be willing to take a pre-departure test to facilitate safe travel. In contrast, 83 per cent of those surveyed wouldn’t be willing to travel if quarantine was on the cards.
“Quarantine of any length will continue the economic destruction of COVID-19. Testing must replace, not shorten, quarantine. And testing costs should be borne by governments,” Rafael Schvartzman, IATA’s regional vice president for the Europe region.
There is, though, little international consensus to how COVID-19 testing can allow the safe restart of travel. Some countries prefer testing on arrival, while others prefer passengers to get a test from a private supplier before travel. Concerns have already been raised about the standard of tests conducted in some labs.
There’s also disagreement over what tests should be approved. Many governments demand ‘gold standard’ PCR tests that can take labs between 24 and 48 hours to process. Some tests can return results in as little as 15 minutes, while a so-called LAMP test now offered at Heathrow Airport can return results in 80 minutes – but the only destination to accept that type of test is Hong Kong.
In the meantime, there’s only one thing for certain… criminals will fill the void.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.