Virgin Australia has backed CEO Jayne Hrdlicka’s comments suggesting a vaccinated Australia must accept some COVID cases and open its borders before mid-2022.
In a statement released on Monday evening, the business said, “We must learn to live with COVID-19 in the community in a way that protects the health and safety of our people but also opens Australia up to the rest of the world.”
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.
Virgin’s statement refused 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.”
Those words echoed closely those of Hrdlicka, who is reported to have 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 said in a private seminar that the country must “make a call on letting [COVID] run” once vaccinations have been widely offered.
“We need to somehow communicate to the public that we’ve gotten to a place of complacency because we’ve driven transmission to zero but we will face newly emerging transmission, and a critical juncture where we need to make a call on letting it run,” he said.
“I think that’ll be when we’ve got as high vaccination coverage for the adult population as we can possibly get to, so everyone being offered it, and building that confidence in vaccines as much as we can … then we need to really say ‘look, we can’t sit on our hands here’.
“We all need to step up to get vaccinated in order to open up Australia to world travel and arrivals so that our education sector, tourism sector and all of the other kinds of compassionate reasons for us to see family and friends overseas can come to the fore.”
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 on Tuesday evening then 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.