Australians have a “vaccination passport” to avoid border closures. We don’t use it. Again
Lockdowns, border closures, cancellations of mass events. As school holidays begin in many parts of Australia, vacationers and our tourism industry have continued to struggle with movement restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
- People in the EU who are fully vaccinated can travel without quarantine using ‘vaccine passports’
- Vaccinated Australians have a similar digital certificate on their phone, but no rights attached to it
- Vaccine passports could be used to give states more confidence to keep borders open
But, starting next week, 14 countries in the European Union will open non-quarantine trips to people fully immune to COVID-19, which they will prove with a digital ‘vaccine passport’.
Vaccinated Australians have a similar certificate on their smartphones – and this could be a way out of the chaos of the past 15 months.
“This stop / start, open / close, progressive locks, reverberations behind the lock,” lamented Felicia Mariani, director general of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC).
Tourism Minister Dan Tehan wants to give vaccine passport holders the freedom to avoid lockdown.
“If you had the dual vaccine, then that certificate would allow you to be able to travel and not have to be locked up or, or not be able to cross borders. And ideally, that’s a situation we could come up with in Australia. . “
The tourism minister said giving more freedoms to those vaccinated would be an incentive for people to get vaccinated.
“Obviously there’s a really good incentive – you don’t want to get sick,” he said.
Tourism operators are among those desperately seeking the increased certainty that a vaccine passport could give vacationers – and state governments are weighing down restrictions on travelers.
In Cairns, Nikki Giumelli, owner of a maritime tourism business, is desperate to inject some certainty into the region’s economy.
“I think that would have the framework for businesses – and then for consumers – to have some confidence that this is the way to go and that their plans, you know, especially if they’re vaccinated, mean that ‘they have a certain level of certainty about what they are organizing as well,’ she said.
Currently, customers who would normally book months in advance are only waiting a few weeks, scary changes to their location will shatter well-established plans. This has a huge impact on regions like Cairns which depend on tourism.
“For us, business has always been about planning and forecasting,” added Ms. Giumelli.
“But we’re in a scenario where we’re really struggling to do that, because of these constant border issues and COVID bubbles. It’s been a very difficult time to navigate, to be honest.”
At the end of Victoria’s recent lockdown, a curious requirement was added for visitors to ski resorts.
“I think at first a few people were turned away because everything was new and very quick with the way it was, but it seems to be settling down,” said Mark Bennetts, Managing Director of Mt Buller and Mt Stirling Resort Management said ahead of the season opening weekend.
“We really wanted the Melburnians to come back – limited chances last year due to COVID obviously – we now have snow on the ground. We really want the Melburnians to come, so how can we get there. “
Initially mandatory, the requirement is now downgraded to a recommendation. But, along with vaccine passports, it may signal the reopening of travel in the COVID era.
The Victoria Tourism Industry Council champions the travel and events industry in the Southern State.
More than a year after the start of the pandemic and after Melbourne suffered one of the longest lockdowns in the world last year, CEO Felicia Mariani wants to see systems in place that will bring more certainty.
“We are going to continue to have all these tragedies, the progressive lockdowns, the closures, the difficulties for the companies, it will continue until we get a really substantial level of vaccination in our country,” she said.
“A vaccination certificate would give all of us the confidence to engage in many of these larger activities that are perhaps worrying us a little right now.
The concept is not theoretical.
In New York City, spectators will not take part in Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming Broadway show unless they prove they are fully vaccinated.
Some US sports teams have opened stalls – closer to the front line, without social distancing requirements – for vaccinated fans.
State versus federal
The federal government has allowed Australians to have a digital passport, but what can we do with it?
“These decisions will be made by state and federal governments, possibly later,” Services Australia Managing Director Hank Jongen politely noted when launching the certificate recently.
Mr. Tehan said any change would require the support of every state and territory. The EU is giving us the opportunity to watch a live test of the system, he noted.
“It gives us the opportunity to really monitor, learn, understand and then hopefully adapt any learning when we hope to get into these types of situations here in Australia,” he said.
Cooperation seems to be the problem. States quickly closed borders to prevent epidemics in other states from seeping in.
“I think this needs to be agreed at the national level, I think we need to understand what we mean by ‘fully vaccinated’ and what allocations would be agreed upon outside of these circumstances, but I don’t see a problem with that,” Victorian Chief health officer Brett Sutton said.
“You would want it to be valid, you wouldn’t want a black market in certificates to happen, and you wouldn’t want the vilification or stigmatization of those who might not be able to get vaccinated.
“So a lot of complex issues in this space, but there should be a recognition, I think, over time that people who are fully vaccinated are really a lower risk of transmission.”
The nervousness of school holidays
Back at Cairns Marina, Nikki Giumelli examines the books of her charter business and “Bad Fishy” jet boat tours.
“It’s a kind of anxiety, both for the businesses involved and, of course, for the tourists who are also planning their vacations,” she said.
“It’s an always scary scenario, because every time you think we’re moving in the right direction, there seems to be something that takes you back a few steps.”