Coronavirus: Asia-Pacific

International travellers may need vaccination to enter Australia

SYDNEY • Australia will likely require international arrivals to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or face a prolonged quarantine, as officials sketch out what "new normal" virus curbs may look like.

Although no final decision has yet been made on how to proceed when a vaccine becomes available, Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt said yesterday the options could be that all visitors must first be vaccinated or choose a strict two-week quarantine on arrival as the conditions for entry.

His comments came as Qantas Airways chief executive Alan Joyce said international travellers would need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to fly with the flag carrier.

"We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft," he told Channel Nine television.

"Whether you need that domestically, we will have to see what happens," he added.

Mr Hunt said: "We would expect that people coming to Australia while Covid-19 is a significant disease in the world will either be vaccinated or they will isolate."

For eight months, Australia has been virtually closed off from the rest of the world, with a blanket ban on non-residents entering the country and citizens strongly advised against all foreign travel.

Domestically, though, restrictions are easing.

As coronavirus cases have slowed to a trickle in recent weeks, the country will lift more internal state border restrictions in a boost for tourism, while the first vaccines could be available in March, said Mr Hunt.

Queensland state, a popular holiday destination, will allow visitors next week from the country's two most populous states, New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, after closing its borders in August.

NSW has since notched a month without any Covid-19 cases where the source is unknown and restrictions on arrivals from state capital Sydney will be eased on Dec 1, said Ms Annastacia Palaszczuk, Premier of Queensland state.

Residents of Victoria, previously the country's coronavirus hot spot, will also be welcomed if the state has no new cases today, which would mark 26 days without community transmission.

"Queensland is good to go," Ms Palaszczuk told reporters.

NSW and Victoria opened their shared border on Monday, while the South Australia-Victorian border opens fully next week, in welcome news for Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Qantas said it will operate more than 1,200 return flights from Victoria and NSW into Queensland in the run-up to Christmas.

The moves will please Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has pushed state leaders to relax some curbs to help revive the economy, which shrank 7 per cent in the three months to end-June, the most since records began in 1959.

Mr Hunt said Australia, which has agreed to buy nearly 34 million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine, is increasingly confident that it can complete a vaccination programme after the release of preliminary trial results.

"Our vaccine timeline is beginning to strengthen. The news from overseas is that we are on track for first vaccines in March," he told reporters in Sydney.

Australia has reported more than 27,800 cases of Covid-19 and 907 deaths since the pandemic began, but estimates there are fewer than 100 active virus cases remaining, with most of them people in hotel quarantine.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 25, 2020, with the headline International travellers may need vaccination to enter Australia. Subscribe