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Overseas travel unlikely in 2021 even with jab, says health chief

written by Adam Thorn | January 19, 2021
A British Airways Airbus A380. (Rob Finlayson)
A British Airways Airbus A380. (Rob Finlayson)

Australia’s Secretary of the Department of Health has said it’s unlikely international borders will reopen in 2021.

“I think that we’ll go most of this year with substantial border restrictions, even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated,” said Professor Brendan Murphy.

The comments follow Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack appearing to issue a stinging rebuke of Qantas’ decision to sell international tickets for travel from 1 July.

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Professor Murphy, who was previously chief medical officer at the start of the pandemic, did, however, say that he didn’t want to predict “more than two or three months ahead”.

“I think at the moment, we’ve got this light at the end of the tunnel – the vaccine – so we’re going to go as safely and as fast as we can to get our population vaccinated and then we’ll look at what happens,” he said.

While trials have shown the available vaccine candidates reduce severe illness and death, it is not yet known whether they stop transmission and could therefore wipe out COVID entirely.

However, the UK, US and Israel, in particular, have been rapidly increasing their vaccination programs in the past few weeks.

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According to Bloomberg, more than 44 million doses in 51 countries have been administered, at an average rate of 2.3 million a day.

Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive Margy Osmond said industries would need a “pay-packet support exercise” to survive another year that would be similar to the expiring JobKeeper payment.

“We can’t recover without international borders being opened at the appropriate time,” Osmond said. “And we can’t survive unless the issues around domestic borders are sorted out and there is a uniform set of triggers, a uniform set of responses and a uniform definition of hotspots around the country.”

Currently, only Australian citizens and permanent residents are allowed to enter the country, with international students, temporary visa holders and tourists banned altogether. Those who do enter are subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine period for which they have to pay up to $3,000.

Qantas’ decision to sell tickets was surprising given October 2020’s federal budget revealed the government isn’t planning for international travel to return until the latter part of 2021.

Tickets for flights departing on 1 July and returning at the end of the month range from $3,400 return from Sydney to London; and $2,000 from Sydney to New York (La Guardia).

Deputy PM McCormack’s statement attacking Qantas said, “International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians. Decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian government.”

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