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‘No jab, no fly!’ International airline spells out vaccine policy

November 25, 2020 Headline News No Comments

Qantas has led the world in several developments, including business class, and its policy on Covid-19 vaccinations is likely to be another world-leading initiative: the airline’s chief executive, Alan Joyce, says that once a reliable anti-Covid vaccine is available, proof of vaccination will become a non-negotiable condition of carriage on international flights.

Joyce’s comments were carried around the world, reported by every outlet from the BBC to Voice of America. They followed highly encouraging developments in the vaccine field. Predictably, people opposed to vaccinations used social media to voice their anger and indignation at the Qantas stance.

In an interview with Channel Nine’s A Current Affair, Joyce was asked the airline’s planned policy when vaccines were distributed to the community.

“We are looking at changing our terms and conditions to say for international travellers, that we will ask people to have a vaccination before they can get on the aircraft,” Joyce said.

“Certainly for international visitors coming out, and people leaving the country. We think that’s a necessity.”

Joyce said a decision had not yet been reached on whether Qantas would require domestic passengers flying within Australia to receive the vaccine.

He revealed that other airlines were thinking on the same lines, which is hardly a secret.

“I think that’s going to be a common thing, talking to my colleagues in other airlines around the globe … What we’re looking at is how you can have the [proof of] vaccination in an electronic version of a passport that certifies what the vaccine is, if it’s acceptable the country you’re travelling to.”

The answer? Vaccination

Vaccine rollout, here and overseas, is likely to run through next year, with international air services ramping up in tandem. Trans-Tasman routes are an obvious starting point.

Oxford-AstraZeneca released preliminary results showing an average efficacy of 90% for its new vaccine, in cases where one low-dosage injection is followed by a booster shot. It is the fourth vaccine to pass the 90% mark (the other three are Russia’s Sputnik V and vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTec and Moderna).

Australia has committed to buying 33.8 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, with 30 million doses due to be manufactured in Australia.

The race is now on to roll out the approved anti-Covid vaccines – and to devise a failsafe electronic means of proving that a passenger has received a vaccination with one. The CommonPass app, sometimes called the “Coronavirus Passport, is one such framework. It uses QR codes with built-in safeguards to ensure reliable and fraud-proof verification. The idea is to verify that passengers do not have the virus, before they board the plane.

You can watch a four-minute video explainer of CommonPass by clicking here. The system is backed by the Swiss-based World Economic Forum.

There is nothing new or radical about countries demanding that travellers produce proof of vaccination to gain entry. This was the case for most of the 20th century, for diseases ranging from smallpox to yellow fever.

Travellers may once again need to supply proof of vaccination

Neither is there anything revolutionary about airlines requiring that passengers meet certain medical requirements to be allowed to fly. Qantas, for instance, lists plenty of conditions for which passengers need a travel clearance form, completed by a doctor, to be allowed to travel. To see the list, click here. Other airlines do the same.

IATA is calling for systematic COVID-19 testing of all international travellers. It says the information flow infrastructure needed to enable this must support:

  • Governments with the means to verify the authenticity of tests and the identity of those presenting the test certificates.
  • Airlines with the ability to provide accurate information to their passengers on test requirements and verify that a passenger meets the requirements for travel.
  • Laboratories with the means to issue digital certificates to passengers that will be recognised by governments, and;
  • Travellers with accurate information on test requirements, where they can get tested or vaccinated, and the means to securely convey test information to airlines and border authorities.

What will happen to people who refuse vaccination, on various grounds? They were making their presence felt on social media yesterday, some saying they would never fly with Qantas again if it demanded they be vaccinated.

It’s difficult to see where they will turn. Not many airlines are likely to court the custom of people who refuse to be vaccinated against a contagious and potentially fatal illness. Airlines have their own economic survival to consider and may simply refuse to carry such people, just as they can refuse to convey people with infectious diseases, or people who have just undergone major surgery.

Denied carriage on scheduled airlines, will anti-vaxxers accept being forced to walk, drive, catch buses, set up their own airlines or just stay at home and watch travel on TV? Not necessarily so. Travel-related litigation is common, particularly in the US, and travellers are quick to sue if they feel their rights have been violated. For the airlines, that’s something to sort out later.

Written by Peter Needham

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