With Australians due to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations next month, and Qantas planning to restart most international flights from July, the issue of mandatory pre-flight vaccinations will move to the front burner.
Qantas has already declared that vaccination will be compulsory for all Australians stepping onto an international Qantas flight, with possible exceptions for New Zealand and other countries which open a COVID-safe ‘travel bubble’, along with passengers who qualify for a medical exemption.
"Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce flagged in December.
In a survey conducted by the airline, "87% said they would take a COVID vaccine if it was required to travel internationally," Joyce revealed, while "85% thought it should be required for travel to at least some countries."
At the time, Qantas forecast there would be "no material international travel until at least the end of June 2021" beyond the likes of NZ, while flights to the USA and London were closed off until October 2021.
The roo reboots overseas flights
But as the national vaccination program gathered pace, Qantas has reopened bookings across its entire overseas network for travel from July 1.
This included flights across Asia, to London and all USA destinations bar New York, with the Boeing 787 filling in for the mothballed Airbus A380 fleet.
As reported at the time, a Qantas spokesperson told Executive Traveller the airline has "aligned the selling of our international services to reflect our expectation that international travel will begin to restart from July 2021."
"We continue to review and update our international schedule in response to the developing COVID-19 situation."
However, the federal government warned there was no guarantee those fights would go ahead, with Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack issuing a stinging rebuke that "decisions about when international travel resumes will be made by the Australian Government."
"International borders will be opened when international arrivals do not pose a risk to Australians," he added, in what now appears to have been a precursor to last week's decision that all travellers to Australia must take a COVID-19 test before they'll be allowed to their flight.
When can travellers expect to be vaccinated?
On the local front, for Australians set on flying overseas with Qantas for business or leisure, they may need to pack some form of vaccination certificate along with their passport.
While the first jabs are due next month, the phased rollout of approved vaccines means the bulk of Australians won't be able to line up for their free COVID-19 vaccination until the middle of the year.
Several international airlines have introduced pre-flight COVID testing for specific destinations – especially between the USA and the UK – while Singapore Airlines is now trialling a 'digital health verification' app which will allow it to validate a passenger's COVID-19 test results and vaccination information.
The vaccination app
This will provide a "faster and more secure way" to validate a passenger’s health credentials, the airline claims.
Under the trial, travellers on Singapore Airlines flights from Jakarta or Kuala Lumpur who take their COVID-19 tests at selected clinics in either city cities will receive either a digital certificate or paper health certificate bearing a QR code.
Upon checking in for their flight, and at immigration channels in Singapore, the code will be scanned into an app to verify the certificate's authenticity.
If the test runs prove successful, the program could be extended to other cities in the Singapore Airlines network.
Singapore Airlines also plans to integrate the entire process into its own iPhone and Android app from around mid-2021.
"Covid-19 tests and vaccinations will be an integral part of air travel for the foreseeable future," admits Ms JoAnn Tan, the airline's Acting Senior Vice President Marketing Planning.
The app is the first in the world based on the International Air Transport Association’s Travel Pass framework, which aims to become an industry-wide standard for airlines, COVID test centres and government health authorities.