Prime Minister Scott Morrison has branded the Virgin CEO “insensitive” for suggesting a vaccinated Australia should open its borders, even if that results in some deaths.
PM Morrison said he was “not going to take risks with Australians’ lives” and added he would maintain a regime “that has so far avoided the loss of 30,000 lives”.
Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka’s earlier words were the most significant yet from a major public figure advocating that the country will have to accept some illness from COVID when borders open, with vaccines unlikely to prove 100 per cent effective.
She was reported to have said, “Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu” as she called for Australia to open sooner than the current target of mid-2022. However, she made clear she was referring to a situation where the country was largely protected via vaccinations.
Nonetheless, referring to Hrdlicka’s comments, PM Morrison said, “I regret that those comments were somewhat insensitive.
“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 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.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud also appeared to play down the Virgin CEO’s comments, arguing the federal government would “take its advice from the chief medical officer, not from CEOs”.
On Monday, Hrdlicka said, “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.
“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.
“Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu.”
The Sydney Morning Herald report made it clear she was only advocating opening Australia with a “large portion” of the country vaccinated, leaving most vulnerable people protected.
Her comments appear to echo the view of Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton who reportedly said in a private seminar that the country must “make a call on letting [COVID] run” once vaccinations have been widely offered.
Last night, Virgin released a statement refusing to criticise Hrdlicka, arguing, “We have and will continue to work closely with both state and federal governments to support the health and safety of the Australian community.
“We agree with state and federal leaders that eradication of COVID-19 cannot be the goal for our country. The question is not if, but when we will be sufficiently vaccinated to protect our people and our hospital system to open our international borders.”
On Tuesday, Virgin tweeted, “The safety of our guests has always been our number one priority – nothing will change that. We have worked in lock-step with state and federal governments to put the health and safety of Australians first, and we’ll keep doing that as we learn to live with COVID-19.”
Last week’s budget papers strongly hinted international travel will not fully resume until mid-2022, stating, “Inbound and outbound international travel is expected to remain low through to mid-2022, after which gradual recovery in international tourism is assumed to occur.”
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s revelation forced Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights from 31 October to December.
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.