International travel has been banned in Australia since the early months of the pandemic. With many loved ones separated by borders, both domestic and international, everyone is eager to start travelling again safely.
Recent news indicates that international travel might be on the cards for Australians next year. But how will it look in a post-pandemic world?
What a vaccine means for travel
For months now it seems that the only hope for overseas travel returning to normal is a COVID vaccine. Currently, to travel in or out of Australia, special exemptions are needed from the government. And all international arrivals need to quarantine in government-mandated accommodation for two weeks.
Obviously, this isn’t sustainable for our travel habits pre-2020.
Now that there are potential vaccine candidates in final stages things are looking promising for a return to normal travel. The travel industry has been one of the worst-impacted by the pandemic, so it makes sense that there’s been a push for travel to return. But many countries are currently experiencing the worst COVID numbers since the pandemic began. So there needs to be some significant precautions in place to stop Australia going back into lockdown.
Following the announcement of the vaccine candidates, the Australian government released Australia’s first vaccination policy. The policy says that while vaccinations will not be mandatory, proof of a COVID vaccination may be required for those entering or returning to Australia.
Building on that, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce recently announced that the company is looking at making a COVID vaccination mandatory for all passengers. Joyce told A Current Affair in an interview that Qantas is looking at changing its terms and conditions for international travel. He believes it a necessity that international travellers have proof of vaccination before embarking on a Qantas aircraft.
While this is just relevant for Qantas at the moment, Joyce said he’s discussed the matter with a number of other airline CEOs who were also considering it. It doesn’t seem unlikely that a COVID vaccine will be required to travel internationally on any carrier.
A Vaccine Passport
The suggestion that was brought up by Joyce is that of a vaccine passport, which would document officially that an individual has had their necessary shots that allows them to travel. Just like a normal passport is an official ID document.
This idea isn’t new, at all. Many travellers need to prove their vaccinations to an airline prior to travelling to certain destinations. An Internation Certificate of Vaccination has often been a way of documenting certain vaccinations. The small yellow book needs to be stamped by an accredited vaccination centre to be valid. Travellers then carry the book with their travel documents and present them as needed.
Joyce’s suggestion is to make this book digital and tie it to a person’s current passport. Which makes total sense in the digital age. This will be a quick way of ensuring all passengers on board a flight have been vaccinated. While it may seem like a new thing for COVID, it’s likely that after a while it will just become a normal part of life – just like remembering to pack your passport.
Is a vaccine all we need to travel?
A vaccine is certainly going to put us on the road to international travel faster. But it also isn’t going to happen overnight. A vaccine rollout could take years, particularly to get us to a point where enough of the population worldwide has been vaccinated to ensure herd immunity. And it’s not something that should be rushed.
Some other suggestions to make travel viable have been that travellers simply need to return a negative COVID test in the days before travelling to be cleared. But this still doesn’t diminish the risk of acquiring the virus, which is what a lot of the public concern is about.
Contact tracing and social distancing are also likely to stick around for a while. But they must be adhered to if there’s ever going to be hope for travel without a vaccine.
Hassan Vally, the associate professor at the Department of Public Health at La Trobe University, told the ABC in an interview:
“We still don’t know how long immunity lasts and so regardless of whether you’ve had a natural infection or whether you’ve been vaccinated, we’re unsure as to how long that offers protection for.”
So while a vaccine seems like our best hope to return to international travel quicker, it doesn’t mean the fight is over. Let’s remember that COVID has only been active for about a year, and it’s still too soon to know what the intricate nature of the virus and its lasting effects are.
Many have voiced concern over being forced by airlines to take a COVID vaccine to be allowed to travel. But while getting a coronavirus vaccine may be a choice, it looks like it’s a choice that needs to be made if you want to travel internationally.