News of Australia’s discussions with Singapore and New Zealand about resuming travel has given hope to holiday makers looking for an international getaway.
While the details have yet to be worked out, New Zealand is looking hopeful for an April start date and Singapore, July departures.
The moves will escalate the chances of international travel for Australians. But it comes at a cost, and some are suggesting we are moving too fast.
What has come out of the Singapore discussions is that citizens from both will require vaccinations before they can start tucking into bowls of laksa at a Hawker Centre. And that raises the controversial question of vaccine passports for Australians earlier than at first thought.
Earlier this year, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said it was necessary to have vaccine passports or certificates for travellers to visit. Which means Australians will need to think about whether they are prepared to accept both mandatory vaccines and a means of proving it.
Qantas boss Alan Joyce has already said he is keen to have a passport app and has trialled it. IATA’s travel pass will be ready “within weeks”, say bosses – and is already being trialled by Etihad, Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air New Zealand.
Countries like China and Israel have been fast to develop digital vaccine passports. The Chinese government unveiled a system that could be accessed through WeChat while in Israel, residents can access the digital ‘green pass’ a certificate of inoculation that granted people privileges that the unvaccinated aren’t allowed. This included hotels, gyms, swimming pools and bars.
But there have been major questions that have been raised about the ethics, inequality and privacy around vaccine passports.
According to the BBC, around 200,000 in England have petitioned against a vaccine passport, forcing the MPs to debate it. Those opposed to a digital certificate believes it will “create a two-tier society where some people can access support and freedoms while others are shut out – with the most marginalised among us hardest hit,” according to the BBC.
The debate has already spread to Australia. Dr Bridget Pratt from the Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne told the ABC that people living in low and middle-income countries may have to wait longer.
“I think a ‘two-tier’ idea of rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated people is a concern both within countries and between countries,” she said.
“And those two tiers will likely reinforce existing inequalities because the people who lack access to the vaccine are likely to already be socially marginalised.”
That could create a situation where people in richer nations get to enjoy international travel for years before the rest of the world.
“That can have significant impacts for wellbeing in terms of family and social relationships, work, and just the enjoyment of getting a holiday,” she said.
Vaccination passports are spreading throughout travel.
A number of cruise lines have said they will require their passengers to provide vaccine passports.
Billionaire and entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson’s cruise brand Virgin Voyages earlier this week announced all passengers will be required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding future cruises.
“Safety and security is our number one priority, and always has been our number one priority. We’ve heard the president talk about the acceleration of vaccines out there, where by May, all adults could be vaccinated. So, we think that that’s an important criterium to create a safe environment on our ships. We’re going to be requiring all of our sailors and all of our crew to have to be vaccinated before they get onboard the ship,” said Virgin Voyages’ CEO Tom McAlpin.
Royal Caribbean also announced that passengers and crew older than 16 must be vaccinated before sailings from Israel to the Mediterranean.
Other cruise lines that will require vaccination passports include luxury brand Crystal Cruises, American Cruise Lines and others.