Australia has edged closer to national coronavirus coverage of 70 per cent amid rising hopes international tourists, workers and students can return before Christmas.
More than 68 per cent of people aged 16 and above have received two jabs, while 84.8 per cent are covered with at least one.
Returning Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families will be the first quarantine-free arrivals into NSW when borders reopen from November 1.
Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan is optimistic that national double-dose vaccination coverage of 80 per cent will give the nation more options.
“Returning Australians first,” he told Sky News on Monday.
“Then my view is that before Christmas we can start looking at the tourists, the international students, the working holidaymaker visa holders and our Pacific workforce.”
Mr Tehan said migrant labour would be crucial to driving Australia’s economic recovery.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said vaccination was key to Australia allowing people to travel internationally from next month.
“As soon as it’s possible, we want to make sure that we can bring into this country the skilled workers, the international students that we so desperately need,” she told parliament.
“Then of course we will be welcoming back international tourists.”
Australia will begin issuing vaccine proof certificates from Tuesday to confirm travellers’ immunisation status.
A certificate can be downloaded digitally or printed and is compatible with travel apps including the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass.
It also features a QR code to prove vaccination status to border authorities.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has ruled out following NSW in scrapping quarantine for international arrivals.
But he said the two-week requirement, which has been in place nationally during the pandemic, would be reduced.
His state recorded 1903 new infections and seven deaths on Monday, four days out from Melbourne’s lockdown ending.
NSW lifted more restrictions and schools started to reopen with the state’s daily case increase dropping to 265, while five people died.
There were 17 cases in Canberra.
Former deputy chief health officer Nick Coatsworth said it was time to move away from the existing quarantine system.
The infectious diseases expert said he was OK with the NSW decision but it needed to be monitored for safety.
Dr Coatsworth also said prudent steps out of lockdowns should be taken to protect the capacity of Australia’s already-stretched health system.
He said the nation had a world-leading vaccination rate to underpin reopening.
“I’m hoping that the hospitalisations themselves will stay down,” he told the Nine Network.
“Cases may well increase as we start to mingle in the community, there’s no doubt about that, but it is hospitalisations and intensive care admissions that we need to worry about.”
Queensland will reopen its border to Victoria and NSW when it reaches 70 per cent and drop quarantine requirements for interstate arrivals at 80 per cent.
The state is on track to hit the higher threshold about a week before Christmas.