Qantas says that a COVID-19 vaccine will be mandatory for all Australians flying overseas with the airline once international travel returns in 2021.
Exceptions would likely be made for New Zealand and potentially other countries involved in a COVID-safe ‘travel bubble’, along with passengers who qualify for a medical exemption.
"Australia’s success at virtually eliminating COVID means we’ll need a vaccine for international travel to restart properly," Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said during a market update this morning."
"Once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services."
Compulsory vaccination won’t be required for domestic Qantas flights.
Joyce allowed that flights to New Zealand “will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID,” while “there will be some exceptions for people who can’t, for medical reasons, take vaccines.”
However, in light of delays to the Singapore-Hong Kong travel bubble due to sudden outbreaks in Hong Kong, Joyce suggested that vaccinations might arrive before some travel bubble mechanisms are put in place.
"The potential for vaccines to be rolled out maybe faster than the bubbles happening is probably real at this stage."
No jab, no fly...
While Joyce said he acknowledged that “some people are opposed to vaccines in-principle… we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.”
Joyce also cited widespread support for mandatory international vaccination among the airline’s passengers, saying that a recent poll indicated 87% were willing to take the vaccine if it was required to travel internationally, while “85% thought it should be required for travel to at least some countries.”
Qantas won't be alone in this, with Joyce says governments and airlines around the world are “moving in that direction.”
“And that’s not unprecedented: for yellow fever and polio for a number of countries you need a vaccine passport, a little yellow book which the World Health Organisation issues, in order to get into those countries.”
Digital vaccination passport
The airline is currently working with other carriers and the industry as to what form this ‘COVID vaccination passport’ would take, such as a digital travel pass app.
“The Government is working through how vaccines will be registered technically and how a digital passport and digital requirements will be managed, but we have a humber of months before detail needs tot be finalised.”
Australia’s National Vaccination Policy has also suggested that visitors to Australia may be required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination, although Joyce said that “it will become a binary choice for international travellers to either get the vaccine or quarantine for two weeks. And quarantine places are very limited.”
Domestic travel uptick
On the domestic front, as states continue to reopen their borders, Joyce repeated his call to establish a “national framework” to deal with COVID testing, defining hotspots and triggering travel restrictions
This would be “a set of rules that reflects our confidence in the testing and tracing systems that have worked so well in New South Wales in particular, so that we’re not faced with borders slamming shut again.”
The combined domestic capacity of Qantas and Jetstar now stands at 68% of pre-COVID levels for December, with Joyce targetting of 80% by March 2021.
“There’s been a rush of bookings as each border restriction lifted, showing that there’s plenty of latent travel demand across both leisure and business sectors.”
“We’re also seeing people booking several months in advance, which reflects more confidence than we’ve seen for some time.”