We don’t want the jab. We don’t want vaccine passports. We don’t even want our borders. But we do want to go on holiday somewhere, sometime. We just don’t know when.
The mixed messages of a week which saw Australia’s appalling record of vaccinations put foreign holidays further away than ever has left our $65 billion tourism trade looking over an abys.
While Australia watches the rest of the world plan their summer holidays, we still remain confined to our island nation. Cruise is restarting in Alaska and Europe’s rivers will see new vessels along the Rhone, Rhine and Danube in July; Americans are heading to the Caribbean for spring break; and as of this week, British holidaymakers can travel to 12 countries and territories without quarantining on the return home.
So where does that leave our struggling travel industry? Qantas this week announced hundreds of international crews will be offered voluntary redundancies as the airline reveals a $16 billion hole in its bottom line.
As part of the airline’s COVID-19 recovery program, Qantas said it will run an “expression of interest program” for international cabin crew to register for the voluntary redundancies.
Out of 22,000 jobs across the entire Qantas Group, 16,000 were currently working in some capacity.
Both Virgin and Qantas have urged the Morrison government to fast-track vaccinations against COVID to allow international travel to resume sooner than later. And he is trying.
The major issue is that more people will lose their jobs as the industry is concerned about the federal government’s delay of reopening the borders until mid-2022.
Our tourism trade relies on overseas visitors, predominantly from China, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and Singapore.
Mr Morrison this week said he supports the idea that Australians will need a vaccine passport to travel interstate and overseas drawing a lot of question marks for Australian tourism. It’s a good idea for a government struggling to persuade the population they need to take a jab – any jab. It’s an incentive.
But what to those without a passport? Will they stay home? Jan Stanton, the general manager of Concierge Traveller, did not mince her words when commenting on Mr Morrison’s proposal.
“Implementation of vaccination passports for domestic travel would basically put a nail in the coffin of the travel industry,” she said.
“I do not feel being vaccinated for domestic travel is necessary if we have no cases and outbreaks of COVID are under control…implementing vaccines for domestic travel will basically close down the whole of the travel industry completely and any hope of recovery.
“Our industry has been directly affected by COVID-19, people have lost business, jobs and been financially affected.”
Another travel agent who wanted to remain anonymous also spoke strongly against Mr Morrison’s idea.
“I am absolutely against it; the industry is already hard enough. It would lead to less people travelling than we’re already experiencing.”
“There are already not many [travel businesses] surviving, look at how many Flight Centre locations have been closing down and Qantas is offering staff voluntary redundancies and those are huge companies, it’s becoming too hard for small travel agents, there is no cash flow, no bookings, no domestic cruises, we can’t survive.”
Stephen Duckett, the director of the health program at the Grattan Institute wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Reopening the borders relies on so-called herd immunity which is achieved when a sufficient majority of the population is vaccinated. But high levels of vaccine hesitancy make it virtually impossible for us to achieve herd immunity.
“Australians need to be confident that the program is well-managed – if they see mistakes being made on a daily basis, they may suspect there are other mistakes behind the scenes that they can’t see.
“Thirdly, the federal government needs to focus on other groups in the broader population where vaccine hesitancy is high. Right now, many Australians feel they have little reason to get vaccinated – our COVID-free status means there is little risk of getting COVID currently and so little personal benefit from getting vaccinated.”
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce says: “It feels like it’s slower than it should be. We know that’s [the vaccine] the path out of this, and we need to push to make sure that happens as fast as possible.”
Mr Morrison’s suggestion was also instantly opposed by New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian: “There should be no internal borders. There should be free movement within Australia, vaccine or no vaccine. The vaccine is our way of dealing with international borders. There is no basis for states closing borders to other states.”
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan commented that he’d require “strong evidence from a health perspective” before considering implementing domestic vaccine passports and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk referred to the idea as “another thought bubble.”
Independent Craig Kelly will introduce a bill banning COVID vaccine passports when Parliament resumes next week.
Mr Kelly told news.com.au his “no vaccine passport bill’’ would ban the plan. He said there were constitutional powers to prohibit the states from issuing a vaccine passport.
“You shouldn’t in Australia have to show your medical papers to go to the Gold Coast, to cross the Murray River, go to the pub or go to the footy.”
Just the kind of silly messaging that is now slowing Australia’s emergence from the pandemic lockdowns.