The chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council has said forcing passengers to receive COVID vaccinations before being allowed to board international flights would be similar to workplace discrimination.
Gloria Guevara’s comments at the Reuters Next conference will likely be taken as a swipe at Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, who became the first major airline boss to insist on the practice.
“We should never require the vaccination to get a job or to travel,” Guevara said on Monday. “If you require the vaccination before travel, that takes us to discrimination.”
It comes after Joyce said he made the decision because the business has a “duty of care to our people” and would put “safety ahead of popularity”.
“Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services,” said Joyce in December.
“There will be some exceptions for people who can’t – for medical reasons – take vaccines. And our flights to New Zealand will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID as well, just as domestic flights will be exempt.
“I acknowledge some people are opposed to vaccines in-principle. We respect that. But in return, we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.
“In the past week, we’ve asked some of our customers their thoughts on this: 87 per cent said they would take a COVID vaccine if it was required to travel internationally; 85 per cent thought it should be required for travel to at least some countries.
It comes a week after Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Australia will likely begin its COVID vaccination program weeks before its original start date of March.
The new plan would see inoculations begin in mid-February with a target of inoculating half the country – including the most vulnerable groups – in the first half of the year.
Australia has purchased doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, and also agreed to deals with candidates from Novavax and the University of Oxford.
The new plan – which came after pressure from the federal opposition – would see the Pfizer vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration this month, with the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab to follow shortly after.
The latter is seen as the key to vaccinating more Australians as it is cheaper and doesn’t have to be stored in a freezer.