EU Seeks to Boost Rapid Covid Tests to Avoid Travel Chaos

European Union regulators offered member governments guidelines on speedy testing for the coronavirus in the latest effort to prevent national health measures from hindering the free movement of people across the bloc.

The European Commission recommendation covers the use of rapid antigen tests for detecting Covid-19 in “specific settings.” The commission also urged EU governments to recognize each other’s test results and approved 35.5 million euros ($42.2 million) for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to expand testing in the bloc.

“Testing tells us what the extent of the spread is, where it is and how it develops,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement on Wednesday in Brussels. “It is a decisive tool to slow down the spread of Covid-19.”

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed fundamental shortcomings in the way the EU can tackle international health emergencies, prompting pleas by airlines and airports for more coordinated action. National governments in the bloc have the prime responsibility for health policies that, in a crisis, can undermine the prized European single market.

National border closures and curbs on the export of medical gear within the EU during the spring galvanized the commission, the 27-nation EU’s regulatory arm, into actions meant to create a more coherent response.

The results included special highway lanes to ensure trucks could cross national borders; curbs on the sale outside the EU of personal protective equipment; the joint procurement of any successful Covid-19 vaccines; and a common approach to imposing restrictions on visitors from abroad.

In October, the commission stepped up such efforts by urging improved exchanges of real-time data, a focus on rapid testing and greater use of mobile-tracing applications. Last week, it proposed legislation to beef up two EU health agencies.

Among the commission’s recommendations on Wednesday regarding rapid antigen tests for Covid-19 are that they should be:

  • conducted by trained healthcare personnel or trained operators where appropriate
  • used within five days after the onset of symptoms or within seven days after exposure to a confirmed Covid-19 case
  • considered for individuals with Covid-19 compatible symptoms in areas where the proportion of test positivity is high or very high when the availability of “gold standard” RT-PCR tests is temporarily limited
  • recommended to test individuals, regardless of symptoms, in settings where the proportion of test positivity is expected to be ≥10%
  • considered at admission to healthcare facilities and for a targeted population-wide testing approach

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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