Qantas boss Alan Joyce has sparked a furious backlash after suggesting the airline will demand proof of coronavirus vaccinations from would-be international passengers.
Mr Joyce told the Nine Network this week he has spoken to other airlines around the world about how proof of COVID jabs, once they become available, could be required from overseas travellers,
“What we are looking at is how you can have a vaccination passport, an electronic version of it, that certifies what the vaccine is, is it acceptable to the country you are travelling to,” he said.
Qantas’ international flights have been all but grounded since earlier in 2020, when Australia closed its borders to overseas travellers.
It has lost $2 billion throughout the pandemic.
Mr Joyce has previously said vaccines are key to the airline resuming regular international travel.
On Monday – amid weeks of positive news about the likelihood of COVID vaccine availability early in 2021 – he said they were likely to be required for passengers and flight crew.
But the comments drew a sharp backlash online, with some labelling Mr Joyce heavy-handed and draconian.
Much of the opposition was channelled via the online account of a British travel agency, Tradewinds Travel. After Mr Joyce’s statement, it said it would no longer sell tickets on any Qantas flights, even through code shares.
“There are far superior airlines with flights to Australia,” the company posted.
“We will apply the same criteria across the board for all airlines.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also caused a storm about a COVID jab in August when he said he would “expect it to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it”. He had to walk back those comments within hours.
“There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds, but that should be the only basis,” he said.
But Labor frontbencher Bill Shorten said Mr Joyce’s proposal was a no-brainer.
“I would expect anyone coming into Australia is going to have to demonstrate to us that they are COVID safe,” he told Nine’s Today Show on Tuesday.
“Why wouldn’t they (Qantas) want to make sure.
“I would like to know the passenger next to me was vaccinated.”
Vaccines are already compulsory as part of visa conditions for entry to some nations or for returning Australians – such as proof of yellow fever vaccination if returning from high-risk countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
The outlook for coronavirus vaccines has got much more positive in recent weeks.
British company AstraZeneca announced on Tuesday that its joint venture vaccine with Oxford University had been found to be 70 per cent effective in trials. With different doses, it could be about 90 per cent effective, the company said.
Millions of the doses of the vaccine could be rolled out as soon as Christmas. Australia already has an order for 30 million, with 3.8 million potentially delivered in early 2021.
The Oxford jab is the third after US companies Pfizer and Moderna to excel in trials as the world appears on the cusp of having numerous vaccine solutions.