A recent announcement by Alan Joyce, CEO of Australian airline Qantas, in which he said Covid-19 vaccines will be mandatory on all international Qantas flights, has caused conflict over airlines vaccination rules.
1. Qantas’ announcement
Speaking on A Current Affair on November 23rd, he stated, ‘For international travellers, we will ask people to have a vaccination before they get on the aircraft’, adding, ‘Certainly, for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity.’ Joyce suggested that those who didn’t accept these rules may struggle to find an alternative airline to fly with, as from talking to airline colleagues around the world, he believed the rule we be popular. According to Joyce, Qantas is potentially looking 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’. They are the first airline to indicate that Covid-19 vaccinations will be mandatory for travel once they are available, although Joyce indicated other airlines were considering a similar approach.
2. Conflicting opinions
Joyce’s comments immediately sparked debate, as many object to the policy and there have been calls to boycott the airline. People are questioning what right Joyce has over their medical records and whether they are allowed to travel, and voicing concerns over the safety and efficiency of Covid-19 vaccines and how quickly they are being rolled out. Many have a problem with an airline enforcing a vaccine, especially such a new one.
Meanwhile some people have shown support for the CEO, congratulating Qantas on putting the safety of passengers first, and pointing out that vaccinations for some diseases are already mandatory for international travel. For example people arriving in Australia can sometimes be asked to prove they have been vaccinated against yellow fever.
3. Vaccination rules in Australia
Although the Australian Federal Government has said that a COVID-19 vaccine will not be mandatory in Australia, they did say it could become a condition of entry or re-entry to the country. The Australian COVID-19 Vaccination Policy says, ‘While the Australian Government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate. 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.’ Australian Prime minister Scott Morrison said international visitors to Australia could be faced with, ‘Be vaccinated or face 14 days in quarantine’ once a vaccine is available.
4. Disagreement from IATA
Joyce’s announcement was given a cool reception by airline body IATA, who said Qantas’ vaccination passport won’t cure their cash crisis and predicts airlines will suffer a net loss of US$118.5 billion for 2020. IATA director-general Alexandre de Juniac stated, ‘We cannot wait for the vaccine to be deployed, otherwise we’ll all be dead’, continuing, ‘For the moment, we have had this very good news on the vaccine, but it is a bit premature to say when and how the vaccination progress will be spread all around the world and the whole world will be done’. ‘Even if the vaccines prove viable next year, it would take the global aviation industry at least four years to recover from the swathe of travel bans and restrictions imposed around the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic’ he explained.
IATA is in the final stages of developing a digital health pass which would support the reopening of international borders. The IATA Travel Pass would co-ordinate information about COVID testing and vaccinations and would, ‘manage and verify the secure flow of necessary testing or vaccine information among governments, airlines, laboratories and travellers’. De Juniac explained, ‘Testing is the first key to enable international travel without quarantine measures. The second key is the global information infrastructure needed to securely manage, share and verify test data matched with traveller identities in compliance with border control requirements’. He said the IATA digital travel pass or smartphone app was part of the solution and the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble would be a litmus test.
Nick Careen, IATA’s senior vice president of airport, passenger, cargo and security, said the main priority was to ‘get people travelling again safely’. He explained, ‘In the immediate term that means giving governments confidence that systematic COVID-19 testing can work as a replacement for quarantine requirements. And that will eventually develop into a vaccine program’. He added, ‘The IATA Travel Pass is a solution for both’.