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Australia may not open even after vaccinations, says Minister

written by Adam Thorn | April 14, 2021
A Singapore Airlines 787-10 Dreamliner in Melbourne (YMML) as shot by Victor Pody
A Singapore Airlines 787-10 Dreamliner in Melbourne (YMML) as shot by Victor Pody

Health Minister Greg Hunt has claimed Australia won’t necessarily open its international borders as soon as everyone has been vaccinated.

Minister Hunt said the government would also have to consider how long protection from the jabs lasts and how they affect transmission. “Those are factors which the world is learning about,” he said.

The news comes amid concerns over delays to Australia’s inoculation program, caused by a shift in policy to prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 50s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply.

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It follows worries the British-created jab could lead to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.

However, Minister Hunt’s admission on Tuesday will raise concerns as to whether Australia will open its borders this year to most other countries.

“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” he said. “If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.”

The minister added that the decision to remove movement restrictions would be made by chief ministers, premiers and the Prime Minister.

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On Tuesday, his colleague Dan Tehan, the Minister for Trade, added the next “logical step” would be expanding Australia’s travel bubbles where it was “safe to do so”.

“Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam have all been mentioned as potentials in that area. And I think that is likely to be the systematic approach that we take,” he told the ABC.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also reportedly set to increase national cabinet meetings to twice a week in order to help solve problems with Australia’s vaccination drive.

“This is a complex task and there are problems with the program that we need to solve to ensure more Australians can be vaccinated safely and more quickly,” PM Morrison said.

“We are throwing everything at these issues, uniting the nation to keep the vaccination program safe, to get the rollout right, and to be open and transparent about how we are tracking.”

The concerns over the rollout stem from Australia having secured 53.8 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab compared with just 20 million of the Pfizer alternative.

On Friday, PM Morrison revealed the country would purchase an additional 20 million Pfizer doses, but these won’t be available until the final quarter of 2021.

Qantas’ chief executive has repeatedly insisted Qantas’ policy is that international travellers must be vaccinated.

In December he said, “Our position on this is clear. We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers, and once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services.

“We will always put safety ahead of popularity – but it seems the vast majority of our customers agree with us on this.”

Currently, only Australian citizens, permanent residents and a limited number of visa holders are allowed to enter Australia, with international students, most temporary migrants 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.

However, a two-way, trans-Tasman bubble will launch on 19 April. The new arrangement will though allow New Zealand to pause or suspend the arrangements if any outbreaks occur in Australia.

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