Updated: May 7, 2021
International travel for business and leisure is becoming possible again and it is expected to rebound. Most countries require a negative Covid-19 test result from travellers, among other measures, to stop the spread of the virus. With the growing diversity, accessibility and popularity of Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT), the question is - do they meet the travel requirements in Europe?
Rules vary across different European countries regarding the types of tests accepted by the authorities. For example, Luxembourg now accepts Rapid Antigen Tests along with PCR, RTL Today reported.
Types of tests
There are two categories of Covid-19 tests:
Viral test: detects if a person is infected with the virus at the time of testing.
Antibody test: detects if a person has been infected in the past and has developed antibodies.
To travel almost anywhere in Europe, you have to present a negative viral test. Within the viral category there are two types of tests:
Molecular tests: also known as Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT), PCR or RNA tests. They detect genetic material and are usually more sensitive and accurate, but results take longer.
Rapid antigen tests: detect viral proteins from nasal, oropharyngeal and saliva samples. They are more affordable, results are much quicker and are available for self-testing.
The variety of Rapid Antigen Tests
Rapid Antigen Tests are more affordable and provide results much quicker (within 10 to 60 minutes). They are available for self-testing, in addition to being used in laboratories, hospitals and by healthcare providers.
Rapid antigen tests are rapidly entering the European market, allowing faster and cheaper ways to detect infection.
While accuracy is the top priority, reducing the discomfort of users also makes a difference with the growing variety of tests. For example, saliva Rapid Antigen Tests are actually spit tests. This not only makes them a preferred option by adults, but also easily administered for children.
Which types of tests are required to travel?
PCR tests are still the most widely accepted when travelling, despite being more expensive and less accessible to some people.
Presenting a negative Covid-19 test sometimes will not exempt a traveller from quarantine after arrival. Depending on the country you are travelling from (or to), you might need to self-isolate despite having a negative test certificate. For example, in France travellers are subject to a 7-day isolation period and have to take another Covid-19 PCR test at the end of this period.
The diversity of Covid-19 tests will certainly play a big role in staying safe and healthy in the future, and authorities are constantly evaluating their options in a bid to tame the pandemic and restore all aspects of life to normal.