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Virgin CEO says Australia must open sooner even if ‘some people die’

written by Adam Thorn | May 17, 2021

Virgin Australia’s chief executive, Jayne Hrdlicka, has said a vaccinated Australia must accept some COVID cases and open its borders before mid-2022, even if “some people may die”.

“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 in comments reported by The Sydney Morning Herald.

Her comments are 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.

It comes after last week’s budget hinted international borders won’t fully reopen until the middle of 2022 – significantly later than the previous budget’s estimate of later in 2021.


The Sydney Morning Herald said Hrdlicka made the comments at a business lunch in Brisbane on Monday.

“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,” Hrdlicka was reported as stating.

“Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu.”

The 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 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.

A vaccine delay is significant to Qantas specifically because CEO Alan 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”.

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Comments (19)

  • Bonester


    How nice of her to be so cavalier with others lives.

    • Aubrey


      Yes, we know that COVID and all types of other viruses will be with us forever now, and that vaccination will minimise the risk to most people, but if she was quoted accurately then her language is appalling. Hrdlicka seems to have joined a group of privileged misfits (from politicians to media “personalities”) who have made it their mission to totally misread the room and have no idea of appropriate empathic communications. Shareholders needs rule apparently, though I’m sure there are shareholders who disagree with her.

    • Leigh


      Good on you guys.. your narrow minded views are not even funny anymore.. what do you put forward as the answer? Do we hide away from everything that can potentially harm us? Guys give away your cars tomorrow, because they can potentially put you in a position that could kill you..

  • Ben


    Anyone who thinks money is more important than lives needs psychiatric help.

  • Peter


    At least someone is speaking the truth. We are not going to eradicate this virus & will have to learn to live with it. Good quarantine processes & vaccination is an integral part of this & yes some people will die.

  • Peter G.


    Another reason not to fly with them. What a stupid comment from that person

  • Marum


    I like HDKCKA’s empath for others.
    If it were my call, she would be among the first to depart – permanently.

    Win some, lose some….Marum.

  • Pete


    At last a bit of obvious sense !

  • Darren


    How many people die every year of the flu? In Australia 2019 over 800 flu related deaths. Sad but true.
    Do we shut down the countries borders every year in flu season? No, Why not? Because life goes on.
    Don’t be naive and fall for the editors headline. Reality involves births and deaths everyday.
    Australia’s borders need to open, sooner than later, and people need to get vaccinated.
    Vaccine complacency is currently Australia’s biggest threat to life…

  • Adrian


    It’s obviously only the ‘bottom line’ that Virgin’s owner, Bain, & its’ CEO, Hrdlicka, care about.
    This will be the start of its’ rapid downfall.
    Nobody will want to fly with this airline, with that attitude towards people.

  • Rod Pickin


    Probably not her finest choice of words but the bosslady is correct. Keeping the borders totally closed is not the right pathway out of this mess. If both outbound and inbound travelers have received their full vaccinations and intended travel is to or from approved areas one has to ask, is there a problem? Yet again we must accept that our world has changed, so too must we.

  • Bill O Really?


    Hrdlicka is competing with the great AJ on the EQ stakes. Wonderful to have both airlines run by such people, people. I remember how Joyce just had to ground Qantas, as I saw the 767’s all lined up empty at HNL airport that day. Money is very important, lets keep money as the priority and life will be sweet. If you make it past the COVID baddy that is.

  • Emily


    I would have to agree with her. She’s not saying money is more important than people’s lives, she’s saying that COVID is and will be a part of life going forward so keeping the borders closed longer isn’t going to change that. There are people that have families overseas and should have the freedom to visit them once 70% of Australians is achieved.

  • Graham Cranswick-Smith


    Agree with Jane. Fully vaccinated Australians travelling for business should be permited to leave from July. There should also be a modified quarantene being maybe 5 days in hotel followed by 9 days home quarantene.

  • Mark


    Is she willing to die to open the border ? Not sure I’m happy to have someone running an airline who doesn’t mind if her passengers die in order to maximise profits.

  • Garard


    Good on her, if we don’t die from the virus we certainly die from either insanity, starving to death as most are, committing suicide as people are losing their house to the bank, or a civil war as shortage of food will be coming. You may all be on high ticket paying jobs the majority of Australia aren’t, they live off tourism and other factors that makes the economy go round, stop being sheep and stand up for your human rights. This is a get of jail card, wake up Australia and open the borders.

  • Leithen Francis


    I think Jayne Hrdlicka’s statement is incredibly insensitive and shows a lack of thought. One in 10,000 people or one in 100,000 people may seem like very slim odds (of dying) . That’s what you think , until you or a close family member end up being the one. I say that, because I’m speaking from experience.

  • Christina


    The CEO of Virgin may not feel so complacent about ” some people dieing should someone she cares about be one of the deceased.

  • Bob tuffs


    I have no problem with her dying today, it’s the others I am concerned about.

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