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”.