Australia’s top health official has downplayed the prospect of widespread easing of border restrictions, meaning dreams of international travel are set to remain on hold for most of this year.
Department of Health secretary Brendan Murphy, and chief health officer for most of last year, told ABC News Breakfast on Monday he believes it is unlikely international borders will substantially reopen this year, even if most people are vaccinated against coronavirus.
“I think the answer is probably no,” Professor Murphy said.
“Even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don’t know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus.”
Meanwhile, Australian authorities are chasing more details after Norway reported a small number of very frail people died after receiving the Pfizer vaccine.
Professor Murphy said he was “not unduly concerned”, saying “this group of people who had these adverse effects, and unfortunately some died, were very, very old and frail”.
“It’s not clear whether the vaccine – how directly related to the death it was,’ he said.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says it may influence what advice the Therapeutic Goods Administration provides for Australia’s vaccine rollout.
Mr Hunt says at this stage there is no change to Australia’s planned vaccine program, which is due to start next month.
The government is planning to distribute the Pfizer vaccine as well as the locally produced AstraZeneca jab.
A survey of more than 1200 people by market researcher Roy Morgan has found more than three quarters of Australians are keen to be vaccinated.
NSW tourism prepares to ‘bounce back’
Meanwhile, more major events and tourism drawcards will call NSW home under a government strategy to transform the state into the largest tourism hotspot in the Asia-Pacific.
The strategy is a bid to repair the industry, battered by the coronavirus pandemic and projected to operate below pre-pandemic levels until 2024.
It plans to grow the state’s visitor economy to $65 billion by 2030, up from its pre-pandemic level of $43 billion.
“If COVID-19 has shown us anything it’s that the visitor economy is everyone’s business – it accounts for almost 300,000 jobs and 110,000 businesses and is integral to our state’s economy,” Tourism Minister Stuart Ayres said in a statement on Monday.
“Once health advice allows, NSW will bounce back as a result of a $200 million a year investment to help get the tourism sector back on its feet.”
The strategy would aid planning and investment in marketing, events, business support, regulations, training and tourism infrastructure, Mr Ayres said.
Two key focuses are increasing regional NSW’s stake in the industry and growing the NSW day-trip market.
A new “brand” for Sydney and NSW will also be developed.
Domestic travellers will be the primary target until it is safe for international travel to resume.
The strategy plans to return visitation to pre-pandemic levels by 2024.
“The NSW government is already charging ahead to create new tourism experiences and icons such as the new Sydney Fish Market, new sporting stadiums and cultural institutions and world-class walking tracks in regional NSW,” Mr Ayres said.
The NSW Tourism Industry Council praised the plan, including its focus on the day-trip market.
“Developed against the backdrop of drought, bushfires, floods and COVID-19, the new strategy provides a clear sense of direction for those in the visitor economy who have been so badly impacted and will likely be the slowest to recover,” executive manager Greg Binskin said in a statement.