Health Minister Greg Hunt has said a greater ability to travel overseas could be used as an incentive to encourage Australians to accept a COVID jab.
His intervention will be interpreted as trying to mitigate the alarm caused yesterday when Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed the country’s new estimate for opening wouldn’t be until 2022.
Speaking on Monday, Hunt said jabs could allow Australians to have an “easier passage out and easier passage in” and international travel “should certainly be an incentive to get the vaccination”.
It came after he announced at the weekend that it was inevitable the country would suffer more outbreaks, even with travel restricted.
“Unless we completely wall ourselves off from the world with nobody coming in, nobody going out, no trade going out, no trade coming in, then nobody, nobody can guarantee that there will be zero cases,” Hunt said. “When there have been cases, we know how to deal with it, incredibly strong responses.
“We’re very confident in every state and territory’s testing and tracing programs.”
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.
On Sunday, Treasurer Frydenberg confirmed Tuesday’s budget will shift the estimated open date for Australia to the rest of the world from the third quarter of 2021 to 2022. The move will likely force Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights on 31 October.
Frydenberg’s comments were backed up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said we have to be careful not to exchange our way of life “for what everyone else has.”
“We still have a long way to go, and there are still many uncertainties ahead,” PM Morrison said. “Australians are living like in few countries around the world today.”
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 also significant to Qantas specifically because Joyce has repeatedly insisted his airline’s policy is that long-haul international travellers must be vaccinated.
Australia is also battling apathy problems with the vaccine program, with NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro suggesting people were unwilling to risk getting a jab because life has resumed without restrictions in many areas.
He urged residents to “do your bit” and said Australia needs to jab 70 per cent of the population for the virus to be kept under control.
“The reality is, and I have heard it myself, [people say] there is no virus so why bother or why take the chance?” Deputy Premier Barilaro said.
It follows NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard stating 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.
In April, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce revealed the government hadn’t given him an exact date for when international borders are likely to open, but said the business could adapt to any delay.