Flight Centre’s chief executive has become the most high-profile figure to back Virgin’s CEO after she suggested a vaccinated Australia should open its borders, even if that results in some deaths.
Graham Turner said Jayne Hrdlicka’s words “don’t sound callous to me” and argued her comments were “quite well said”.
Hrdlicka’s earlier intervention was the most significant yet from a senior industry executive advocating that the country will have to accept some illness from COVID when borders open, with vaccines unlikely to prove 100 per cent effective.
However, Turner strongly backed her on Tuesday afternoon, despite recent criticism from both Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
The Australian reported he said people would die from COVID-19 in Australia “just like 2,000 die from the flu each year, and a myriad of other causes”.
“People will die [from COVID], people will just have to accept that,” Turner said. “The point is we can’t stay shut forever. But it’s a question of when do we open, and what are the conditions for opening?
“COVID-19 is still going to exist, which is why the vaccination program is the absolute key. It means people won’t die.”
Hrdlicka seemed to inadvertently start a national conversation on Monday when she was reported to have said opening the country’s borders would mean “some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu”.
It came as she was calling for Australia to open sooner than the current target of mid-2022. Significantly, she made clear she was referring to a situation where the country was largely protected via vaccinations.
“We’re forgetting the fact that we’ve learnt how to live with lots of viruses and challenges over the years and we’ve got to learn how to live with this,” she said.
“COVID will be part of the community, we will become sick with COVID and it won’t put us in hospital, and it won’t put people into dire straits because we’ll have a vaccine.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison branded the Virgin CEO “insensitive”, arguing he was “not going to take risks with Australians’ lives” and would maintain a regime “that has so far avoided the loss of 30,000 lives”.
PM Morrison said, “I would encourage people to know 910 Australians lost their lives. Every single one of those lives was a terrible tragedy, and it doesn’t matter how old they were.”
Later on Tuesday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian also appeared to also criticise Hrdlicka’s views by arguing that “no death is acceptable” when it comes to reducing the spread of COVID.
“We’ve worked hard in New South Wales to protect life, to keep community safety and that’s what we will do,” Premier Berejiklian said.