News Coronavirus Virgin Australia offers free flights as a COVID-19 vaccine incentive, but there’s a catch

Virgin Australia offers free flights as a COVID-19 vaccine incentive, but there’s a catch

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Virgin Australia will offer Australians the chance to win millions of frequent flyer points and free Business Class flights if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19.

But there’s a catch.

The airline’s ‘VA-X & Win’ competition – in which one traveller could become a “Velocity Points millionaire” – is due to start only when all adults are eligible for vaccination.

Given the sluggish pace of our national vaccine rollout, that won’t be until the end of this year.

Virgin Australia said it will announce more prizes when the competition eventually starts, including the chance for its employees to win extra annual leave.

It’s just one of the ways companies are seeking to boost vaccination rates in a bid to get back to business.

Last month, Qantas announced it will offer a range of perks to vaccinated Australians from July to encourage more people to get a COVID jab.

The prizes include flight points, credits and the chance at a year’s worth of free travel.

“We are putting in a discount for people who have had the vaccine,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce told Channel Nine.

“We are looking at giving 1000 [Qantas] points, flight vouchers, credits and we are going to offer 10 mega prizes – at least one for each state and territory – where you get for the year, for a family of four, unlimited travel on the Qantas and Jetstar network, anywhere in the network.”

Mr Joyce said hospitality company Accor would offer a million points to each of the winning families to cover their accommodation costs.

Companies using the carrot, not the stick

Around the world, wacky incentives such as free marijuana, doughnuts and gym passes have been used to encourage citizens to be vaccinated against the virus.

In some parts of China, for example, the vaccine comes with a complimentary carton of eggs.

One restaurant was reportedly offering free chicken wings and dumplings, while a temple in Beijing offered free entry in exchange for getting the jab.

While the federal government has so far refrained from offering any vaccine “sweeteners”, the nation’s chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly has voiced support for incentives like cash, lotteries or discounts.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has previously spoken of the freedom to travel and avoid lockdowns as an ‘incentive’, in a similar vein to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s vaccine passport idea.

The prospect of international travel has raised hopes that those who line up for their COVID shots could be exempted from virus rules like travel restrictions or lockdowns.

And yet, most Australians who want a vaccine are still unable to get one due to supply issues and mismanagement.

Up until recently, the Morrison government had been tight-lipped about how many vaccine doses it expects to have available, and by when.

On Wednesday, though, Commander Defence COVID-19 Task Force Lieutenant General John Frewen revealed Australia’s full expected allocation of AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna doses for the rest of the year, broken down by state and territory, and GP clinics.

Between July and August, the Morrison government expects to have at least 2.2 million AstraZeneca doses and 650,000 Pfizer doses available nationwide.

From September, the government expects AstraZeneca doses will start tapering off to make way for Moderna as more and more Australians over 60 get vaccinated.

Moderna is expected to supply 25 million doses from late 2021, pending approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

The agreement is for 10 million doses of its current vaccine, and 15 million doses of booster or variant-specific versions of the vaccine.