Qantas has insisted its plan to restart international flights on 31 October remains on track despite concerns over delays to Australia’s vaccine program.
The developments are significant because the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, has long maintained he will only allow passengers on long-haul international flights if they have received a COVID jab.
On Monday, Qantas released a statement saying it was “closely monitoring the recent developments”.
“The government has not updated its timeline for the effective completion of the vaccine rollout and at this stage there’s no change to the planned restart of our international flights,” said a Qantas spokeswoman. “We’ll continue to have dialogue with the government.”
It comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday played down a previous pledge to inoculate all Australians by the end of the year due to delays sparked by concerns over the safety of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab.
“The government has also not set, nor has any plans to set, any new targets for completing first doses,” PM Morrison said. “We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible.”
It also comes days after the government said Australia would now prioritise administering the Pfizer vaccine to under 50s rather than the Oxford vaccine that the country has in far greater supply.
The change in policy follows similar moves by countries around the world due to concerns the British-created jab could lead to blood clots in a very small number of recipients.
The change in advice has ramifications for the vaccination program because Australia had 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.
“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.
“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.