In the past month, Nigeria suspended the Dubai carrier, Emirates from flying into or out of its territory after the carrier imposed additional COVID-19 test requirements (Rapid Antigen tests) on passengers from the country.
According to Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika at a news conference, Emirates had demanded passengers from Nigeria undertake three COVID-19 tests within 24 hours, leading the government to suspend its operations, with the exemption of cargo and humanitarian flights.
“To make us go through three tests within 24 hours does not make sense. Since they insist, their operations remain suspended,” Sirika said.
Based on findings, Emirates and Dubai Airport authorities sought the rapid antigen test following cases of fake COVID-19 PCR-test results coming from Nigeria, among others, in the wake of a spike in COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Meanwhile, the second flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, Etihad has voluntarily withdrawn its services from Nigeria in the wake of the event. The suspension of Emirates Airlines and Etihad’s withdrawal from Nigerian airspace has cost Nigeria, at least, a 20% decline in international passenger traffic.
According to Bankole Bernard, Chairman of the Airline Passenger Joint Committee (APJC), the UAE authorities were not to blame for seeking further tests from Nigerian travellers.
“They (UAE) value lives ahead of money. They value every life in their country, unlike us here. They found the impact of fake COVID-19 test results too huge to handle and found themselves caught in-between.
“Unfortunately, we (Nigeria) didn’t even see the fake results as a big deal, to warrant investigation and prosecution. Etihad withdrew, we didn’t even see the need to find out why and see how to work together to resolve the problem. It is a shame,” he said.
Difference between PCR- Test and Rapid Antigen Test
PCR-test which is considered the “gold standard” in SARS-CoV-2 detection detects the presence of viral RNA. That is, it can detect a COVID-19 infection even in those who show no symptoms. This will allow early isolation and will be able to prevent the transmission of the virus to other hosts.
The disadvantages of this test are the financial cost compared to the antigen tests, the need for highly trained professional staff for sample handling, and the longer evaluation time which is generally said to be within 2-3 days. On rare occasions, test results can however be received in as little as 24 hours.
Rapid Antigen test
Rapid Antigen test detects viral proteins which reveal patients at the peak of the infection when the body has the highest concentration of these proteins.
The disadvantage is that Rapid Antigen tests are not as accurate as the standard PCR tests. Thus an infected person with no symptoms may pass the test as a false negative. Thinking they are healthy, such persons can spread the virus among others.
Rapid Antigen tests are, however, more affordable than PCR-test, and results can be received within 30 minutes.
The OXERA-Edge Health report
On the other hand, the OXERA-Edge Health report, commissioned by IATA, has found antigen tests to be most effective. According to findings, the best antigen tests generally provide comparable results to PCR tests in accurately identifying infected travellers.
For instance, The BinaxNOW antigen test is said to have similarly comparable performance to PCR tests in levels of false negatives.
IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac have called on governments to provide tests options for travellers to strengthen the recovery of the airline industry.
“Travellers need options. Including antigen testing among acceptable tests will certainly give strength to the recovery. And the EU’s specification of acceptable antigen tests offers a good baseline for wider international harmonisation of acceptable standards. We now need to see governments implement these recommendations. The goal is to have a clear set of testing options that are medically effective, financially accessible, and practically available to all prospective travelers,” de Juniac said.