It was the captain’s call heard around the world.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce split opinions in Australia, sparked headlines overseas, and even prompted a word of caution from the International Air Transport Association when he said COVID-19 vaccination would be a “necessity” for all travellers on international flights with Qantas.
Mr Joyce has already suggested a vaccine for the deadly virus would be key to restarting international travel, but on Sunday he appeared to be the first airline boss anywhere to declare it would be an actual condition of flying.
“Certainly, for international visitors coming out and people leaving the country, we think that’s a necessity,” he said on A Current Affair.
“I think that’s going to be a common thing, talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe.”
People have vowed to boycott Qantas over its vaccine rule – but it might not matter if countries mandate vaccination anyway. Picture: Flavio Brancaleone/NCA NewsWireSource:News Corp Australia
Mr Joyce’s comments prompted an outpouring of support from pent-up travellers, and concern and calls for a Qantas boycott from others.
But as several promising candidates fuel hope for a COVID-19 vaccine to arrive next year, there is speculation countries may make vaccination a requirement of border entry – which means Qantas’ rule won’t really matter.
Because even if airlines accepted passengers that hadn’t been vaccinated, their destination may not.
Jill Chung, a spokeswoman for South Korea’s largest airline, Korean Air, believes this would be the case.
She told Al Jazeera there was a real possibility airlines would require passengers to be vaccinated because governments were likely to make vaccinations a condition of arrival.
But she said any policy change would be made in co-operation with governments.
“This is not something for airlines to independently decide,” Ms Chung said.
Mandatory vaccination as a condition of entry to countries already exists. Travellers already need an international certificate of vaccination or prophylaxis (ICVP) to enter countries where yellow fever vaccination is mandated, or to leave destinations with a high risk of polio.
While many people are concerned about the unusual speed at which a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to be pushed out, experts say it could well become advisory, or even mandated, for those wanting to cross international borders.
“I think we’ll have a formal certificate, either online or on paper, showing that you’ve been vaccinated at a recognised, accredited clinic, as we do for yellow fever,” Felicity Nicholson, lead doctor at Trailfinders Travel Clinic in the UK, told CNN.
“It’ll be the destination demanding it – and that could be everyone.
“Most countries where there’s a vulnerable or older population will certainly be demanding proof because we know how devastating the disease can be.”
Experts say it’s possible countries will make a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for arrivals. Picture: Adrian Dennis/AFPSource:AFP
Health and vaccine law professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss from the University of California told National Geographic federal laws could make it necessary to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination to get a passport.
The Federal Government has said it would not make the vaccine mandatory for Australians but has not ruled out implementing a “proof of vaccination” for entry or re-entry into the country.
With a vaccine not yet available, a large number of nations are already mandating COVID-19 testing as a condition of entry.
Singapore, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Greece, The Maldives and island nations in the Pacific and the Caribbean are among the destinations where travellers are tested on arrival or require arrivals to present proof of a negative test before their flight.
A traveller is tested at Hannover-Langenhagen Airport in August, after Germany began mandatory virus tests of arrivals from high-risk nations. Picture: Alexander Koerner/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
Airlines such as Emirates will only allow passengers to board if they show proof of a negative test.
Other countries are looking at “immunity passports” as a condition of entry. These documents would grant border entry to travellers who were immune to COVID-19 – however, scientists are still not sure if immunity to COVID-19 is even possible.
Still, Heathrow Airport boss John Holland-Kaye has welcomed the possibility of an internationally recognised immunity passport, as has Delta Air Lines, according to the BBC.
Delta chief executive Ed Bastian said in April he would make “whatever changes to the business model that will be necessary” – including adopting immunity passports if it was required by the US government.
In light of those comments, Forbes speculates Qantas’ vaccine rule could well be adopted by American carriers. A recent poll of Americans found 66 per cent supported a “no proof of immunity, no ticket” policy for airlines once a vaccine became available.
But the chief executive of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) thinks Qantas’ mandatory vaccination suggestion could be a step too far.
The IATA is the peak body representing the world’s airlines, including Qantas.
“For the moment, we have had this very good news on the vaccine but it is a bit premature to say when and how the vaccination progress will be spread all around the world and the whole world will be done,” IATA boss Alexandre de Juniac told Nine newspapers.
“What we think is the emergency now is to implement the testing process.”
The head of the IATA says compulsory vaccination for international travel is ‘premature’.Source:Getty Images
The IATA has advocated for solutions such as testing to replace government-mandated quarantine, which it believes is stalling the recovery of the global industry.
“We cannot wait for the vaccine to be deployed, otherwise we’ll all be dead,” Mr de Juniac said.
“An immediate solution already exists, we could safely open borders today with systematic COVID-19 testing.”
Ms Chung from Korean Air said one of the strategies being discussed was the “Common Pass” app, developed in conjunction with the World Economic Forum, which standardises COVID-19 test results to allow airlines to determine which passengers were safe to fly.
“With the world coming closer to coronavirus vaccines and negative tests also becoming requirements for lifting travellers from self-quarantines in countries across the world, airlines are feeling the need for an effective system to screen passengers for vaccinations and tests,” Ms Chung said.
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