The federal government is dangling international travel as an “incentive” for Australians to get vaccinated, even as their allies voice outrage over so-called ‘vaccine passports’.
As the government talks up the potential idea, George Christensen and Craig Kelly have already signalled plans to oppose any such move, saying it could disadvantage those who don’t get a COVID jab.
The Morrison government now says it expects Australia’s international borders to remain clamped shut until at least 2022.
That’s despite earlier predicting an October reopening, and other nations across the world planning to open their borders for tourism imminently.
Health Minister Greg Hunt says vaccination could be Australians’ ticket out of the country, raising hopes that those who line up for their COVID shots could be exempted from virus rules like travel restrictions or lockdowns.
“It should certainly be an incentive to be vaccinated,” he said at a Canberra press conference on Monday.
“Is travel an incentive for people to be vaccinated? Absolutely.”
Mr Hunt earlier spoke of a “roadmap” toward “progressive opening of the borders”, including plans to open new “green lanes” or travel bubbles with nations doing well with COVID health outcomes.
Morrison backs idea
Unlike other countries offering discounts and alcohol as sweeteners, Mr Hunt has said Australia wouldn’t be offering material incentives for people to roll up their sleeves.
When asked about “vaccine passports” last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded: “I do like this idea.”
“If you are fully vaccinated you would be able to, be able to travel and certainly around Australia but even potentially overseas without having to go through the hotel quarantine or some other form of abridged quarantine,” the PM told 3AW radio.
Vaccine passports have been talked about since the beginning of the pandemic, with discussions about how people who are not vaccinated against COVID may be forced to stick to tough anti-virus rules.
A University of Sydney poll, released on Monday, found three-quarters of Australians would back a COVID-19 vaccine passport, including requirements people get a jab before working in certain fields.
But such a plan has long been criticised by anti-vaxxer groups, and opposition is now building inside federal Parliament.
Conservative MPs oppose passport plan
Nationals MP Mr Christensen, who will retire at the next election, has railed against talk of vaccine passports for months.
He told his social media followers earlier this year he had written to the Prime Minister with his concerns.
The Member for Dawson recently launched a dedicated ‘no vaccine passports’ petition on his website, asking his followers to “push back for the sake of freedom”.
Mr Christensen said the scheme would “segregate Australians into haves and have nots”, calling it “discriminatory”.
Mr Kelly, who recently quit the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench after a dispute over barracking for unproven COVID treatments, claimed last month he would introduce a bill “to ban vaccine passports in Australia as soon as Parliament recommences”.
Parliament sits on Tuesday.
Two separate public petitions on the Parliament House website, both demanding the government to rule out vaccine passports, have attracted more than 93,000 signatures between them.
However, other barriers to the plan – outside of political opposition – do exist.
Mr Hunt noted potential wider relaxation of rules for vaccinated people would be based on as-yet-unknown data about how vaccines affect virus transmission.
He warned the current crop of vaccines were having “a very strong impact on transmission, but not a universal impact,” noting even some people who had been fully vaccinated with two doses were contracting the virus.
Mr Morrison said medical experts were working on substitutes for the mandatory two weeks of hotel quarantine for those who had been vaccinated, like shortened stays or home quarantine.
“Ultimately, that will be up to each state and territory because they administer these things. That’s their public health orders that would have to be satisfied … But I still think that step is still some way away,” he said.
TND asked Mr Hunt if vaccinated people would need to show vaccination status, such as through the MyGov phone app, to airlines or service providers.
He didn’t confirm, but the government is working on avenues for vaccination status to be shown easily through phone apps.
In the US, people are provided with vaccinations cards on paper, to show when they were jabbed and with which type of vaccine.
Previous discussions suggested air travel, some occupations, aged care or health facilities, and large public events could be included in vaccination passport plans.
Mr Hunt said as of Sunday night, 2.66 million vaccination doses had been administered in Australia, following a “record week” of 402,000 shots.