Canberra Airport CEO Stephen Byron has said vaccinated Australians should be able to ignore lockdowns and closed borders as an incentive to take up the jab.
“Vaccination rates are not going to increase unless they explain what the benefits are,” he said.
Byron’s intervention came amid reports Australians are choosing not to become inoculated due to fears over the safety of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine and low levels of the virus in the community.
As well as preventing deaths and hospitalisations, evidence suggests vaccines can also stop those infected with COVID from passing it onto others – leading some to argue aviation can’t return to normal until most of the population has been inoculated.
“If you’ve had a vaccine, why would state border quarantine rules apply to you?” Byron told The Canberra Times.
“We accept that (following an outbreak) if you’ve been in a close contact site like a restaurant where there’s been a positive case, there will be restrictions.
“But the indiscriminate way that returning travellers from city lockdown places are put into home isolation — you ought to be exempt from that if you’ve had a vaccination.”
Byron was referring to the practice of passengers returning from ‘hotspot’ locations but then being asked to isolate at home even if they’re in another state.
Last week, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said there was a “70 to 80 per cent” drop in health workers turning up for appointments since links were made between the jab and blood clots.
The fears led the Australian government to change its policy so that it would prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 50s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply.
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.
“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.”
Qantas also revealed this month that border closures resulting from the Northern Beaches COVID cluster at Christmas cost the airline $400 million in lost earnings.
The outbreak in Sydney caused large areas of the city to go into a snap lockdown in December and January, which caused all other states and territories to impose travel restrictions.
The timing was particularly problematic given airlines only weeks before chalked up record sales due to most borders opening up for the first time in months.