Singapore Airlines has criticised Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth airports for not mandating vaccines for its staff.
The business’ regional vice president, Louis Arul, praised Sydney and Adelaide airports for introducing the rule but said the lack of a consistent, nationwide approach could hinder Australia’s return to international travel.
While both Qantas and Virgin have also mandated the vaccine for their staff, there is a slew of frontline aviation workers in airports that are not employed by airlines, including security guards, cleaners, and immigration agents.
Noting that Singapore has already imposed a vaccine mandate on its workforce, Arul told the AFR, “We’re confident we’re ready for when the border reopens, but we don’t know at this point if all Australian airports we fly into will soon require mandatory staff vaccination.”
It comes as Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland continue to battle their outbreaks of the COVID-19 Delta variant, which are believed to have stemmed from an unvaccinated Sydney Airport transport driver, who is presumed to have caught the virus from an international aircrew member.
Arul said consultation with industry and nationwide consensus on frontline staff vaccination is key to moving forward and reopening international borders.
“The thing you really don’t want is to open up then have to close down again,” he said.
The call comes after the Board of Airline Representatives of Australia (BARA) last week warned that processes are still not in place to allow for a large-scale restart of commercial travel, and airports are particularly unprepared.
BARA noted there has been “limited engagement” with governments to adapt COVID mitigation measures to accommodate more than a handful of arrivals at airports.
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“The extensive and complex processes now in place at airports allow for a very small number of international passengers and flights each day,” the association said in a statement.
“Any substantive increase in international flights and passengers is not possible under current operating requirements.”
Both warnings come as the government revealed Australia’s ban on international travel could now lift as soon as November, pending vaccination rates and the introduction of a fit-for-purpose vaccine passport.
According to reports, Australia’s vaccine passports for international travel will be available in digital form via travellers’ phones, or in printed form.
Further, the government is reportedly working to enable a person’s vaccination status to be linked to their passport chips, while a plan to introduce a vaccine certificate for travel via QR code is also underway.
Since March 2020, the federal government has imposed a ban on Australian citizens and residents leaving the country, unless they receive a valid exemption. The ban was previously extended to 17 December.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has long suggested that Australia’s international borders will re-open once the country achieves an 80 per cent vaccination rate in its adult population, and that travel overseas will be exclusive to vaccinated travellers.
Currently, just over 40 per cent of Australia’s adult population is fully vaccinated.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said on Wednesday that restrictions for outbound international travel would be eased once vaccination targets are met, and specifically mentioned New Zealand, the Pacific, and Singapore as among the first destinations to be approved for travellers.
“The national plan makes very clear that once we hit that 80 per cent mark then outbound travel – travel by Australians overseas – will take place and also that we can put in place arrangements for inbound travel as well,” Minister Tehan said.
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