‘Very possible’ COVID-19 vaccine may reopen Australia’s international borders: PM Scott Morrison
Thousands of frontline workers have begun receiving coronavirus jabs as the government aims to vaccinate a vast majority of the population by October.
The nationwide immunisation drive has sparked hopes of returning to pre-pandemic life where people could move freely across borders without the shackles of travel restrictions.
- Widespread vaccination could lead to the reopening of Australia’s international borders, hints PM
- Temporary visa holders stuck outside Australia pin hopes on the efficacy of vaccines
- Successful vaccine rollout in Australia alone wouldn’t be enough to open borders, warn experts
Asked if Australia could lift its international border ban once vaccinations have been widely delivered, Mr Morrison said it was “very possible.”
“What I’ve always been confident about is taking one step at a time when it comes to managing the virus. I’m confident that as we move through the vaccination process, we can significantly change how things are done here in Australia,” the prime minister told reporters on Friday.
Referring to his recent phone call with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr Morrison added that the decision to lift Australia’s international travel restrictions will also depend on the success of vaccination programs around the world, including in countries like India where over 8.4 million people have already received vaccines.
With vaccines being rolled out worldwide, the prime minister said it is “reasonable” to expect changes in current restrictions.
“When we’re thinking about countries in our own region, in Indonesia, for example, in India, I was talking to Prime Minister Modi about these things yesterday. There are big jobs to be done there,” said Mr Morrison referring to a phone conversation with his Indian counterpart last week.
“But look, I think it is a reasonable expectation that as time goes on, as the vaccination rolls out across the world and here in Australia, you should rightly expect that things will change in how we manage the virus,” the prime minister added.
‘Only shot to return’
Ashish Gupta, who is a temporary migrant currently stuck in a town in western India, plans to travel to Mumbai this week to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
The 28-year-old accounting professional, who has been separated from his long-time girlfriend for over a year now, said this was his “only shot to return to his life and love.”
“I believe vaccines are the only way out of this pandemic nightmare,” he said.
“I live in Dahanu, which is 110 km from Mumbai. I am travelling to Mumbai this week to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because I think this is the only way to travel back to Melbourne. I want to be ready when the Australian government decides to remove the border ban,” Mr Gupta added.
‘Global success is our success’
But experts warn that opening-up international travel would depend on numerous complex and external factors, some of which are outside a single country’s control, such as the nature and capacity of immunisation drives worldwide and cooperation between countries.
Associate Professor Holly Seale from the University of New South Wales’ School of Population Health said now that Australia has begun inoculation, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we would return to normal life overnight. She warned that a lot is riding on the success of vaccine programs overseas.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where we as Australians start travelling to countries in our region, including those that don’t have the health system that Australia is fortunate to have. We wouldn’t want to put undue stress on international settings that can’t cope with any variations in COVID numbers,” Dr Seale said.
She added that many people are desperate to travel in and out of Australia, and that could serve as an incentive to encourage people for vaccination.
“It’s important that we get some dialogue from the government going soon and have some answers to these questions because that may be a real reason that could get most of our people to go and get vaccinated,” Dr Seale added.