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COVID-19

Airlines push for more COVID tests, fewer quarantines to get more people traveling

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Oct 19, 2020
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Travelers stand at an information desk to ask about the free-of-charge COVID-19 testing station at Düsseldorf International Airport on October 19, 2020. Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Airlines push for more COVID tests, fewer quarantines to get more people traveling

David Brancaccio, Nova Safo, and Alex Schroeder Oct 19, 2020
Heard on:
Travelers stand at an information desk to ask about the free-of-charge COVID-19 testing station at Düsseldorf International Airport on October 19, 2020. Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images
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Looking to boost international travel, a global airline industry group says it’s working on a system so passengers wouldn’t have to quarantine.

Marketplace’s Nova Safo has more on this. The following is an edited transcript of his conversation with “Marketplace Morning Report” host David Brancaccio.

David Brancaccio: Nova, when can we get this?

Nova Safo: That’s the tough part, because there are a lot of hurdles to overcome first. There’s a language barrier issue — test results have to be understandable across borders. The industry has to be able to do a lot of tests each day. They’re looking for a target price of $10 or less per test. And they need the tests to be accurate and fast.

That’s a tall order. So far, testing in air travel has been scattershot — different things being tried at different airports. But what the industry is aiming for is a common standard and the endorsement of the World Health Organization.

Initial guidelines could be proposed by the end of this month by a U.N. agency, but there’s a long road ahead, including getting tests that can match those guidelines.

Brancaccio: So airlines getting deeper in the COVID testing business — clearly present systems aren’t meeting the perceived need.

Safo: They haven’t been. Globally, there are about half as many flights now as there were a year ago. And international flights are worse off than domestic, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Airlines believe the hurdles are the fear of sitting next to an infected passenger and the 14-day mandatory quarantines around the world. One industry survey found 83% of respondents would not travel if there’s a quarantine in the arriving country. So testing, perhaps, could limit quarantines and ease fears.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

So what’s up with “Zoom fatigue”?

It’s a real thing. The science backs it up — there’s new research from Stanford University. So why is it that the technology can be so draining? Jeremy Bailenson with Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab puts it this way: “It’s like being in an elevator where everyone in the elevator stopped and looked right at us for the entire elevator ride at close-up.” Bailenson said turning off self-view and shrinking down the video window can make interactions feel more natural and less emotionally taxing.

How are Americans spending their money these days?

Economists are predicting that pent-up demand for certain goods and services is going to burst out all over as more people get vaccinated. A lot of people had to drastically change their spending in the pandemic because they lost jobs or had their hours cut. But at the same time, most consumers “are still feeling secure or optimistic about their finances,” according to Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, which regularly surveys shoppers. A lot of people enjoy browsing in stores, especially after months of forced online shopping. And another area expecting a post-pandemic boost: travel.

What happened to all of the hazard pay essential workers were getting at the beginning of the pandemic?

Almost a year ago, when the pandemic began, essential workers were hailed as heroes. Back then, many companies gave hazard pay, an extra $2 or so per hour, for coming in to work. That quietly went away for most of them last summer. Without federal action, it’s mostly been up to local governments to create programs and mandates. They’ve helped compensate front-line workers, but they haven’t been perfect. “The solutions are small. They’re piecemeal,” said Molly Kinder at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. “You’re seeing these innovative pop-ups because we have failed overall to do something systematically.”

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