Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has revealed the government hasn’t given him a date for when international borders are likely to open, despite the airline selling tickets from 31 October.
“If it happens earlier, we can adapt or if it happens later, and it could happen later, we just adapt and use it,” Joyce said on Wednesday.
The news comes amid concerns that delays to Australia’s vaccine program could mean the country doesn’t open up to the rest of the world this year.
Speaking to the CAPA Centre for Aviation, Joyce said, “The government have said to us, they can’t give us that date with certainty today because there’s a lot of things it depends on – how effective the vaccine is against stopping transmission, what the rollout looks like, what proportion of the population will have vaccinated, what the success of the other countries is going to look like.”
Joyce went on to insist that even though most destinations are off-limits, the opening of the trans-Tasman bubble had happened earlier than the airline predicted. He reiterated that, despite the lack of an opening date, the airline was still “training people and activating aircraft” ready for a 31 October start.
“For some time Qantas was treading water and now we’re starting to swim towards shore,” he said of the airline’s recent financial performance. “Hopefully when international opens up we’ve got a speedboat to go with towards the shore.”
The news comes amid increasing worries 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. The British-created jab has been linked to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.
A vaccine delay is significant to Qantas specifically because Joyce has repeatedly insisted his airline’s policy is that long-haul international travellers must be vaccinated.
The news also comes just a day after Health Minister Greg Hunt claimed Australia won’t necessarily open its international borders as soon as everyone has been jabbed.
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. “Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up. If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.”
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.”
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.