Australians are expected to be given a strong incentive to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19 with health officials suggesting we may be allowed to leave the country and return with less strict quarantine requirements.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt revealed the proposal on Tuesday. It followed a question from Liberal MP Jason Falinski who asked whether vaccination could see people exempted from outbound and inbound travel restrictions.
Modelling began on Monday and a pilot program could begin in six to eight weeks’ time, the health minister said. Exemptions would be extended to people vaccinated in Australia or in countries where vaccination status could be reliably verified – such as the UK, US, Canada and Singapore.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be in Singapore for talks next week. Even though the Island state has been dealing with a fresh outbreak, it is still considered a leading contender for a travel bubble possibly later this year.
Latest predictions suggest almost all Australians will be fully vaccinated by mid-2022, but that loosening the border restrictions will take place much sooner.
Like the UK, the government may consider introducing gradings like amber, based on the risk of bringing the coronavirus back to Australia with different quarantine rules.
For example, fully vaccinated passengers returning from less risky countries could be allowed to take a rapid-antigen test, and then a full COVID-19 test, and leave quarantine after negative results.
The Pacific Islands are also being tipped as the next phase in Australia’s travel bubble, with the Cook Islands, New Caledonia or Tahiti on a list of contenders.
Mr Tehan said last week vaccinating the majority of the population was paramount to borders reopening.
Qantas chief Alan Joyce also believes vaccines are the “passport to international travel”.