Australia’s national carrier Qantas will require future international travelers to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 before flying.
The airline’s CEO Alan Joyce said in an interview with CNN affiliate Nine News on Monday that the move would be a “necessity” when coronavirus vaccines are readily available.
Joyce said the airline was looking at changing its terms and conditions to “ask people to have a vaccination before they get on the aircraft.”
“Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens with Covid-19 in the market. But certainly, for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity,” the Qantas chief said.
While Qantas is the first airline to indicate that Covid-19 vaccinations would be a must before travel, others could soon follow suit.
“I think it will be a common theme, talking to my colleagues in other airlines across the world,” Joyce said.
A spokesperson for AirAsia told CNN Travel on Tuesday that once a vaccine is available the airline “will review the requirement for guests to be vaccinated against Covid-19 for international travel.”
Air New Zealand said it was “really encouraged by the news around vaccines” and said in a statement that “ultimately, it’s up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen borders and we continue to work closely with authorities on this.”
Whether a vaccine requirement for travel becomes the international standard is at this stage far from certain. There are also questions about whether governments would mandate such a move — and the legalities of doing so — before allowing international travelers into their countries.
The debate comes as three drugmakers unveiled promising results in the fight against coronavirus this month. AstraZeneca announced on Monday that its experimental coronavirus vaccine has shown an average efficacy of 70% in large-scale trials, with Moderna announcing earlier in November that its vaccine was 94.5% effective against coronavirus, and Pfizer/BioNTech revealing that its vaccine was 95% effective.
But the issue of how to safely kick start travel during the pandemic is something airlines and countries are grappling with. Airlines around the world have been hit hard by the decline in travel and countries have missed out on much needed tourist revenue.
Qantas 737-800 aircraft parked on the runway at Sydney Airport on May 20, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.
James D. Morgan/Getty Images
Vaccination passports and health passes
Joyce said Qantas was looking at the potential for passengers to have a “vaccination passport” that “certifies what the vaccine is and whether it’s acceptable to the country you’re traveling to.”
It’s something the airline industry is thinking seriously about.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) — the body representing airlines globally — said Monday that a digital health pass, which could include vaccine information, is the key to opening borders.
The IATA Travel Pass is now in its final phase of development. The airline body is planning to conduct a cross-border pilot test run later this year, with the aim of launching in the first quarter of 2021.
What happened on the Qantas flight to nowhere
“Today borders are double locked. Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures,” said Alexandre de Juniac, IATA’s director general and CEO in a statement.
“The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveler identities in compliance with border control requirements. That’s the job of IATA Travel Pass. We are bringing this to market in the coming months to also meet the needs of the various travel bubbles and public health corridors that are starting operation.”
Speaking at the virtual G20 leaders’ meeting on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pushed for a global Covid-19 tracking system using QR codes, to help fast-track international travel and business.
The Australian government has also indicated that vaccinations could be mandatory when entering the country. Its Covid-19 vaccination policy, announced last week, states that while immunization will be voluntary, “there may however, be circumstances where the Australian government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.”
Flights resume as border controls relax
Australia enacted some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures and travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, including a 14-day quarantine for arrivals, and states closing their internal borders to domestic travelers.
On Monday, the border between New South Wales and the former virus hotspot of Victoria reopened after four months. Flights between Sydney and Melbourne, once the busiest flight route in the country and second busiest domestic route in the world, also resumed after dropping to as low as one per day during lockdown.
Qantas and Jetstar — which once operated a flight every 15 minutes in peak periods along this route — launched 17 flights between Sydney and Melbourne on Monday, according to Qantas. The airline said that the reopened route would help boost the Qantas Group’s overall domestic capacity.
On Tuesday, the airline said that Qantas and Jetstar will operate more than 1,200 extra return flights into Queensland from New South Wales and Victoria in the lead up to Christmas, following the decision by the Queensland government to lift border restrictions.
Capitalizing on pent up demand to travel, Qantas also launched a “flight to nowhere” in September, where passengers spend seven hours flying in a loop across the continent, passing over sites like the Great Barrier Reef and Uluru. The airline said tickets sold out within 10 minutes.
However, the airline’s international fleet remains grounded. In August, Qantas said it’s “unlikely” to resume international flights before July 2021, as it suffers heavy losses due to the pandemic.
Qantas reported a loss of 2.7 billion Australian dollars ($1.9 billion) for the financial year that ended in June, and a 91% drop in profit from the prior year. The airline also announced at least 6,000 job cuts as it fought with what Joyce called “the biggest crisis our industry has ever faced.”
(Text other than the caption courtesy of CNN)