Australians vaccinated against COVID-19 could be the first group allowed to travel overseas for important work or personal purposes, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, as governments, the tourism industry, and would-be travellers adjust to the nation’s delayed vaccine rollout.
Speaking to Perth radio station 6PR on Thursday, Morrison said the “first goal” would be permitting those who’ve been immunised to venture overseas “for important purposes”, including vital business, medical treatment, or funerals.
Australians overseas who have also been “properly vaccinated” could also be permitted reentry into the country, with both cohorts ushered into home quarantine upon arrival – providing some breathing room for the nation’s hotel quarantine system.
“Ultimately if that worked well over a period of time and the data was showing that home-based quarantine was not creating any additional, scaled risks, that could lead to something more significant,” Morrison said.
The Prime Minister added that any reopening of the international border – which was slammed shut in March last year, with limited exceptions for New Zealand – would require states and territories to avoid domestic border closures in the case of new outbreaks.
Further internal shutdowns “would seriously damage our economy,” Morrison said.
Remarkably, Morrison claimed that if international border closures were lifted too quickly, Australia could face a thousand new cases of COVID-19 a week – despite the presumption those arrivals would all be vaccinated.
His remark adds to an earlier statement from Health Minister Greg Hunt, who ceded that international borders may not reopen even if 100% of the population was immunised.
Speaking in Canberra on Tuesday, Hunt said “If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders,” with authorities requiring further data on virus transmissibility among those who’ve received the jab.
The long-debated timeline for Australia’s border reopening was thrown into disarray last week, when the Federal Government confirmed the AstraZeneca vaccine, the primary candidate for tens of millions of Australians, was no longer recommended for those under 50 due to its potential links to extremely rare blood clots.
The decision to prefer AstraZeneca alternatives for younger Australians caused Morrison to formally suspend all goals of vaccinating the population by the end of the year.
Amid deepening uncertainty, airline Qantas continues to prepare for the resumption of international flights beyond New Zealand in late October.
Even so, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said on Wednesday “the government have said to us, they can’t give us that date with certainty today.”
For now, international travel beyond New Zealand remains a distant and unknowable prospect for the vast majority of Australians, vaccinated or not.