It was 30 June 2020. Victoria was about to enter a second lockdown that would last almost four months. That day Australia’s health minister Greg Hunt got an urgent letter from Pfizer about organising a vaccination deal. The tone was clear: ACT FAST.
We all know what happened next.
When it comes to managing COVID-19, Australia’s leaders don’t have the best record for adequately preparing. And now, as Australia inches closer to reopening its borders, the country’s leaders are being urged to start engaging with the travel industry sooner rather than later.
Singapore Airlines regional vice-president Louis Arul has warned that unless the government begins engaging with the aviation and tourism industries NOW, borders won’t be able to open even when Australia hits its 80 per cent vaccination target, The Australian reported.
The government has been dangling opening borders as a lure to get Aussies vaccinated, but Arul said there has been little discussion to actually make that happen.
“The engagement is important because there’s still a lot of gaps in what we see as the planning for border openings,” Arul said.
“The vaccination rate is very, very promising [but] we believe there needs to be some engagement between authorities to ensure all touch points, all contact points are COVID-safe.”
According to Arul, Singapore Airlines still doesn’t know what requirements departing passengers need to meet, how those requirements would be checked and enforced or whether any quarantine would be necessary on return.
There was also a concern that airports across the country lacked uniformity when it comes to vaccinating airport workers, with some states mandating vaccinations, while other simply encouraged them.
“If you don’t impose the regulation, operations will continue but staff will become uncomfortable,” Arul said.
“We’ve had staff express discomfort working with other staff who are not vaccinated so these things need to be taken care of.”
Arul also warned preparations needed to be made to handle the large crowds moving through airports, avoiding “bottlenecks”.
“There’s been no discussions with the airports and airlines to ensure that,” he said.
“These things all need to be discussed and put into place before the border opens.”
“On Singapore Airline’s side, we are quite confident we are ready [for border reopenings] because we have been dealing with many international authorities with a myriad of requirements and we’ve put in place a framework to deal with this,” Arul said.
“I would expect that Australia’s measures will not be very different from the rest of the world. There may be some variations but largely the blueprint is there.”
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