Australia has moved its official estimate as to when its international borders will reopen from later this year to 2022.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed the news on Sunday, which will likely force Qantas to push back its plan to restart long-haul flights on 31 October.
The flag carrier’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, said last month the airline would move its plans if the previous date, announced in last year’s budget, slipped.
Frydenberg was speaking ahead of his budget address on Tuesday, which will unveil a new 2022 open date used to guide Treasury planning for the next 12 months.
“We have an assumption based on the borders opening. It’s in 2022,” he said on Sunday. “We’ve got to follow the health advice, and the Prime Minister has repeatedly made that point, we don’t move ahead of the health advice.
“We’ve got to ensure that our community stays safe and when we suppress the virus as we’ve successfully done, our economy recovers, and recover strongly.”
His comments were backed up by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who indicated Australia’s opening would be pushed back in an interview with The Daily Telegraph.
“We have to be careful not to exchange that way of life for what everyone else has,” he said.
Later, on Facebook, he warned borders would only open “when it’s safe to do so”.
“We still have a long way to go, and there are still many uncertainties ahead,” he said. “Australians are living like in few countries around the world today.”
In April, Joyce revealed the government hadn’t given him an exact date for when international borders are likely to open, despite the airline selling tickets from 31 October.
“If it happens earlier, we can adapt or if it happens later, and it could happen later, we just adapt and use it,” Joyce said.
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 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.
Qantas’ Joyce has repeatedly said he won’t let unvaccinated customers on his international flights because he has a “duty of care to our people and passengers”.