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Time to ‘test and learn’ on overseas travel: Virgin boss

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Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has joined the push for international travel to return – with the airline launching a lucrative prize pool for vaccinated travellers. Photo: AAP
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Virgin Australia has joined rival Qantas in launching a lucrative prize program for vaccinated passengers – as its boss declares it’s time for the country to “test and learn” on international travel.

Virgin is offering a million frequent flyer points as the juiciest carrot in a $150,000 jackpot pool that includes hundreds of prizes.

The airline’s chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka said vaccination was Australia’s ticket to freedom from the pandemic.

“Vaccination is our way back to the things we love and the people we miss, and most importantly, it’s the only way we can protect the lives and livelihoods of all Australians” Ms Hrdlicka said on Wednesday.

The lucrative lures for travellers come days after the airline revealed it had started to consult with staff and unions about about a proposal requiring all frontline workers to get vaccinated by November 15 and all office-based staff by March 31, 2022.

“The most important thing we do in the business every day is keep the passengers safe. It is impossible for us to comprehend exposing our people to COVID every day and not having them protected by vaccination,” Ms Hrdlicka told the ABC on Wednesday.

Last week, Virgin announced a bold plan to lease nine Boeing 737-800s, with plans to have them all in the air by February – contingent on lockdowns ended as Australia’s boosted vaccination program reaches more people.

Ms Hrdlicka said the airline expected at least some international destinations to return by Christmas.

“We get the domestic borders open and we test and learn with international borders,” she said.

“I don’t know what we are waiting for – if we’re 75 per cent vaccinated, we should be getting Australia open and allowing loved ones to reconnect, allowing Australians to get back to a way of life that we have cherished for a long time and worked hard to earn the right for.”

As of late Tuesday, 35 per cent of Australians over 16 were fully vaccinated against COVID. The target of 80 per cent fully vaccinated is expected sometime in mid-November.

NSW is significantly ahead much of the country on vaccinations. It is expected to reach 70 per cent of eligible people single-dosed on Wednesday.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said she would go it alone on international borders once her state hits the 80 per cent vaccine goal.

“I will strongly advocate to the Prime Minister, who has responsibility for international borders, that I would be repaired on behalf of the NSW people to allow our citizens to travel but also to welcome Australians that want to come back home,” she told Seven’s Sunrise on Wednesday.

“That is something I feel strongly about.

“I don’t want eight million people in NSW to suffer because some people don’t go forward with what they signed up to,” she said.

Ms Hrdlicka backed Ms Berejiklian’s border push.

“We need to open up wherever we can and if NSW is the only state that is prepared to up international borders and the other states don’t figure it out, let’s go for it and get NSW opened up to the rest of the world,” she said.

“We need to test and learn. If NSW is the right place to experiment with getting international borders open and doing that in a controlled risk managed way, then I am all for it.”

Other prizes in Virgin Australia’s vaccine promotion include business class flights, lounge memberships and the airline’s popular pyjama sets. Fully vaccinated Australians have until December 31 to enter.