China's Sinovac shot approved by Australia ahead of border opening

Australia's recognition of Sinovac's CoronaVac paves the way for overseas travellers who received that jab to enter the country. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (BLOOMBERG) - Australia recognised China's Sinovac Biotech's Covid-19 shot and India-made AstraZeneca jabs, paving the way for overseas travellers and fee-paying foreign students who have received those vaccinations to enter the country.

The nation's top drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, said the shots should be "recognised vaccines" in determining incoming travellers as being inoculated, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday (Oct 1).

Australia is starting to unwind some of the world's most intense pandemic border restrictions as vaccination rates across the country approach a key threshold of 80 per cent.

Recognition of Beijing-based Sinovac's shot, which has been approved by the World Health Organisation for emergency use, contrasts with Britain and neighbouring New Zealand, which are yet to endorse it.

A number of European countries have said they will accept the vaccine, known as CoronaVac, as part of programmes for vaccinated entry. The United States indicated similarly when it announced plans to open entry to most vaccinated foreigners last week.

Friday's announcement potentially opens the door to thousands of foreign students that have been shut out of Australia during the pandemic.

International education is a lucrative source of revenue for the country, worth A$14.6 billion (S$14.3 billion) to the state of New South Wales alone in 2019.

"Very soon, we'll be able to open those international borders again," Mr Morrison told reporters. "This will start happening from next month."

Vaccines made by Sinovac and the state-owned Sinopharm are among the most used in China, and have efficacy rates ranging from around 50 per cent to 80 per cent in preventing symptomatic Covid-19, lower than the messenger ribonucleic acid vaccines developed out of the US.

Sinovac is also one of the most-deployed Covid-19 shots globally, used from Indonesia to Brazil and Turkey.

Chile said earlier this week it would start administering it to children aged six to 11.

Covishield, the name of the AstraZeneca shot made by India's Serum Institute, was also recognised by Australia on Friday.

More than 57,000 students are estimated to be overseas, according to the government of New South Wales.

Chinese nationals are Australia's biggest source of international students, followed by those from India, Nepal and Vietnam, according to the Australian Trade Department.

The decision on Friday could also be seen as a potential olive branch from Australia, which has been on the receiving end of criticism and trade blockages from China since it asked for a global inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus.

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