What hoops would you jump through; what vials would you fill, to help international leisure travel return sooner rather than later? As airlines experiment with different testing strategies to help us find a ‘new normal’ that works, that’s the question on everyone’s minds.
Enter: Etihad. The Abu Dhabi based carrier has just partnered with Mediclinic Middle East to launch a ‘call out’ coronavirus testing program, enabling passengers to have a medical professional come to their house and test them (and get results) before they even set off for the airport.
The test uses a Polymerase Chain Reaction to determine whether a patent has The Virus. According to The Australian Government Department Of Health, reverse transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, “typically take several hours to generate results, and require complex laboratory equipment and trained technicians.”
They are, however, one of the most effective tests out there (The Australian Government Department Of Health also states that “PCR tests are currently considered to be more clinically sensitive than serology assays for detecting early infections”) and are now starting to be developed in packages that can be used outside the laboratory.
“There are now some near patient SARS-CoV-2 PCR instruments available that can be used outside of a laboratory. These systems can provide quicker results, but cannot do as many tests at once.”
According to Live Science, “PCR tests work by detecting specific genetic material within the virus. Depending on the type of PCR on hand, health care workers might swab the back of the throat; take a saliva sample; collect a liquid sample from the lower respiratory tract; or secure a stool sample.”
“Once a sample arrives at the lab, researchers extract its nucleic acid, which holds the virus’ genome. Then, researchers can amplify certain regions of the genome by using a technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction. This, in effect, gives researchers a large sample that they can then compare to the new coronavirus, known as SARS-CoV-2.”
All passengers flying to any Etihad destination from Abu Dhabi International Airport can use the new at-home testing service, and the initiative comes as several countries around the world now require travellers to have negative COVID-19 results before they fly (even if travellers leaving the UAE are not legally required to take a Covid-19 test before flying out of the country).
Dr Nadia Bastaki, vice president of medical services at Etihad, told The National the testing program is also designed to put passenger’ minds at ease: “Enabling home PCR testing will remove much unnecessary stress from the travel experience during this challenging period.”
David Hadley, chief executive of Mediclinic Middle East told The National: “All testing is carried out by a trained professional, and our dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratories in Abu Dhabi and Dubai mean that results are available quickly and accurately.”
Etihad says the process is simple: passengers keen to be tested must first book a flight with Etihad, after which time they should contact Mediclinic to book an at-home testing appointment. This can be done via telephone, online or by email at [email protected]
Lots of destinations mandate the PCR test must be conducted at a specific time before travel, so Etihad recommends appointments take place at least 48 hours prior to departure.
A health professional will come to your home and conduct the test, which takes only a few seconds. Results will then be available within 24 hours. Guests can also opt to book an appointment at a Mediclinic facility in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Al Ain, Etihad says.
As for the results, if the test comes back negative, travellers can print their results and continue on with their trip. For destinations that require a negative Covid-19 test before departure, Etihad check-in staff will review tests results before completing passenger check-in.
If results are positive, travellers must rearrange their flight for a future date. The Department of Health will be informed and the patient will need to follow strict quarantine guidelines in accordance with UAE regulations.
The tests come amid a number of other health and wellness initiatives, which have included trialing contactless screening to help identify passengers with health conditions at the airport, putting trained Wellness Ambassadors onboard every flight and – most recently – partnering with Medicus to launch a COVID-19 risk assessment tool to empower passengers to make informed decisions about travelling.
In collaboration with the Austrian-based healthcare technology company Medicus AI, Etihad has created a COVID-19 risk-assessment tool which will guide Etihad’s guests in evaluating the probability of having contracted the COVID-19 coronavirus by responding to a set of 22 questions.
The self-administered assessment, which takes less than five minutes to complete, is based on World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines that are updated daily.
“With this risk-assessment tool, guests will understand their individual probability of having contracted the virus alongside advisories and recommendations, allowing them to make informed decisions about travelling,” Etihad says.