Nearly 800,000 half-price air tickets for travel to and from holiday areas will be provided under a $1.2 billion program to support aviation and tourism, to be announced by the Morrison government on Thursday.
The measures are designed to assist these industries, still hard hit by the effects of the pandemic, after JobKeeper finishes late this month.
The cheap fares will run from April 1 to July 31.
The loan guarantee scheme that operates for small and medium sized businesses is also being expanded and extended for enterprises that leave JobKeeper in the March quarter.
While this is an economy-wide measure, the government says those eligible will be especially in the tourism sector.
Thirteen regions have been designated initially for the cheap flights – the Gold Coast, Cairns, the Whitsundays and Mackay region (Proserpine and Hamilton Island), the Sunshine Coast, Lasseter and Alice Springs, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie, Broome, Avalon, Merimbula, and Kangaroo Island.
The number of tickets will be demand driven, as will the places the flights depart from, but it is estimated there will be about 46,000 discounted fares a week over 17 weeks. A return ticket counts as two discounted fares, the government said.
Under the loan initiative, the maximum size of eligible loans will be increased from the present $1 million to $5 million. The maximum eligible turnover will also be expanded, from $50 million to $250 million.
Maximum loan terms will go from five years to 10 years, and lenders will be allowed to offer borrowers a repayment holiday of up to two years.
Eligible businesses will also be able to use the scheme to refinance their existing loans, so benefitting from the program’s more concessional interest rates.
The government says more than 350,000 businesses which are on JobKeeper are expected to be eligible under the expanded scheme, for which loans will be available from the start of next month and must be approved by the end of December.
For international aviation, there will be support from April until the end of October, when international flights are expected to resumer. The assistance across both airlines will help them maintain their core international capability, keeping 8600 people in work as well as planes flight-ready.
Among the assistance for aviation, several existing support measures are being extended until the end of September, including waivers for air services fees and security charges.
There are also extensions for the business events grants program, the assistance for zoos and aquariums, and the grants to help travel agents.
More than 600,000 people are employed by the tourism sector with domestic tourism worth $100 billion to the economy.
Tourism has suffered severely from the closed international border and from the state border closures and restrictions.
Scott Morrison described the package as “our ticket to recovery … to get Australians travelling and supporting tourism operators, businesses, travel agents and airlines who continue to do it tough through COVID-19, while our international borders remain closed.
“This package will take more tourists to our hotels and cafes, taking tours and exploring our backyard”.
However, with almost no international travel in 2020, we now have the opposite problem. The pandemic caused a 70% drop in international tourist arrivals globally from January to August, compared to the same period last year.
But attempts to reboot international travel on a wider scale have so far failed due to successive waves of COVID-19.
As a more transmissible and harder-to-control coronavirus variant has emerged in the UK and South Africa in recent days, dozens of countries have announced they would close their doors to travellers from both nations. Some countries, like Japan and Israel, have gone a step farther, banning all foreign nationals from entering.
Even before this, travel bubbles and corridors between countries have been proposed, but few have managed to take root.
Travel health requirements may soon start to resemble the past. In the 1970s, having appropriate vaccinations and health clearances was essential for travel to and from many countries. Coronavirus vaccinations will likely become similarly standard for international flights.
Lengthy quarantine periods are one of the biggest obstacles to restarting international tourism — few people can afford 14 days in a quarantine hotel on top of their holiday.
There are potential alternatives being tested. Before the new COVID variant emerged, British Airways and American Airlines had piloted a voluntary testing program for some passengers as a way of avoiding the mandatory 14-day quarantine period in the UK.
However, the likely reality is that destinations will be desperate for economic recovery and will compete vigorously for tourism dollars when borders reopen.
So, if consumer behaviour trends are anything to go by, the new normal might not be too dissimilar from the old. It’s doubtful, for example, that we would tolerate flying less when travel is proven safe again. This doesn’t bode well for the planet.
If international travel is going to “build back better”, communities, governments and the global tourism industry must come up with a transformative plan that is workable and helps drive traveller behaviour change and decarbonisation.
The pandemic has given us a chance for a reset — we should make the most of the opportunity.
Recent announcements on travel bubbles and quarantine-free travel between New Zealand and Australia from early next year will be welcome news for whānau and friends as well as businesses and the tourism industry.
But as the prime minister made clear, the travel bubble will be contingent on the virus remaining well under control in both countries.
We will need to keep up testing rates on both sides of the Tasman to ensure that, if and when there is another community outbreak of COVID-19, we detect it before it gets too big.
And with the summer holidays about to begin, we will all need to remain vigilant.
What to do on your summer holidays
The virus won’t be taking a summer holiday so, if we want to have one, there are three main things we all need to do:
Scan in wherever you go using the NZ COVID Tracer app and enable the bluetooth tracing function.
Use a mask on public transport or in crowded places.
If you feel unwell, stay home and call Healthline — you can get tested for free no matter where in New Zealand you are.
As the government outlined this week as part of its resurgence planning, people need to be prepared to change holiday plans if there is an outbreak.
This means having a backup plan in case you need to stay longer than expected, or being prepared to return home early. If we all play our part, we will be able to enjoy a well-earned break safely and help make a travel bubble with Australia and the Pacific a reality in 2021.
Risk of re-incursions from managed isolation
If trans-Tasman travellers were exempt from the current requirement to spend 14 days in a managed isolation facility, this would free up capacity for New Zealanders returning from elsewhere.
This sounds like a good thing, but it comes with its own risks. COVID-19 is still raging around the world. There were more than 595,000 new cases and 12,700 deaths from COVID-19 globally on December 15 alone and these grim records are being shattered with heartbreaking regularity.
With these sorts of numbers, the risk of people arriving from the northern hemisphere and carrying the virus is higher than ever. Increasing the number of arrivals from countries with high prevalence will unfortunately increase the risk of COVID-19 leaking out of our managed isolation facilities.
New Zealand has had at least six re-incursions of COVID-19 into the community from managed isolation facilities in the last four months. These include a maintenance worker and nurses working at quarantine facilities, a returnee who caught COVID-19 in managed isolation and the Defence Force cluster.
We have been able to contain most of these without needing to increase alert levels. But if this pattern continues, sooner or later we are likely to experience a larger outbreak. We need to remain vigilant and recognise that any increase in the number of arrivals from high-risk countries will lead to an increase in the risk of community outbreaks.
Travel bubbles might not be forever
If we do get a significant community outbreak in New Zealand or Australia, it’s possible travel restrictions will have to be brought back, at least until the outbreak is controlled. This could mean that travellers are required to self-isolate at home or in a quarantine facility and get tested before or after travelling.
This is similar to the situation in Australia, where each state has its own rules about travellers entering from other states, and these rules change depending on case numbers in each state. Having robust contingency plans and being able to adapt to a rapidly developing situation is key to stopping the virus getting out of control.
This may mean travel plans get disrupted or cancelled from time to time, but this is an unfortunate reality of life in an ongoing global pandemic.
The prospect of a travel bubble with the Cook Islands will also be welcome news for people with whānau in the Cooks and tourists alike. The biggest risk with this bubble is that COVID-19 could be transported from New Zealand to the Cook Islands, where it could cause a devastating outbreak.
New Zealand has a history of exporting infectious diseases to the Pacific, the most recent example being Samoa’s measles epidemic in 2019. We need to make sure we don’t end up repeating this with COVID-19.
Again, continued community testing in New Zealand will be critical in minimising this risk.
It now uses the Bluetooth-based Google/Apple exposure notification (GAEN) framework. This allows Android and Apple (iOS) devices to communicate via a contact-tracing mechanism built into the devices’ operating systems.
Meanwhile, Australia continues to use the COVIDSafe app, which also uses Bluetooth, but with a different underlying system.
But in this context, New Zealand’s COVID Tracer upgrade is unlikely to help as both countries are using different contact tracing systems that can’t communicate.
Comparing COVID Tracer and COVIDSafe
While COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer both use Bluetooth to determine proximity between users, and log close contacts with “digital handshakes”, both apps have different approaches to reporting close contact information to authorities.
If a COVID Tracer user tests positive for COVID-19, they can alert close contacts who also have the app. These contacts then receive a notification and are advised to self isolate.
New Zealand health authorities can’t know the contacts’ details at any point unless they themselves come forward.
On the other hand, if a COVIDSafe user tests positive, they can choose to send information about their close contacts directly to Australian health authorities — who can then follow up with manual contact tracing.
Will the apps help form a travel bubble?
Both COVIDSafe and COVID Tracer use different underlying systems and therefore can’t work together. This means Australians visiting New Zealand would have to download the COVID Tracer app and use it throughout their visit.
Similarly, a New Zealand resident visiting Australia would need to download and use COVIDSafe. But this may not be possible for many, as setting up COVIDSafe requires a verified Australian phone number and postcode.
And even if travellers do use the other country’s app during their visit, this alone won’t mitigate the risk of bringing home the coronavirus.
For instance, if they contract the virus shortly before returning home (from someone who didn’t know they were infectious) and then delete the app as soon as they return, the news of potential infection won’t reach them.
But even if COVIDSafe were redeveloped to adopt this framework, developers would still need to put in time before both COVIDSafe and COVID Trace could work together.
Such a cohesive cross-border contact-tracing solution would also require agreement by both countries on several fronts, including policies governing the technology, data access permission and the location of physical data servers.
That said, this isn’t impossible.
Australia and New Zealand could choose to follow the European Union’s efforts. Several EU member states, including Germany, Italy and Ireland, have adopted an EU-established service called the “gateway”.
The gateway acts as a middle man which relays information between
different EU countries’ contact-tracing apps. Contact tracing can still occur while a person is travelling between the various countries, as long as their home country’s app has adopted the gateway system.
Where to from here?
Using mobile-based technologies for contact tracing comes with a range of challenges. Besides the issues discussed above, it’s also crucial for contact-tracing systems to be widely adopted by the communities they’re meant to service.
This has proven challenging. Uptake of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps remains low globally, despite governments pushing for mass use.
Meanwhile, Bluetooth itself is fallible. Determining distance between two devices using Bluetooth has limitations, since signal strength (and therefore accuracy) can be impacted by environmental factors.
For example, the signal may be weaker if a phone is kept inside a thick pocket. Or the app may pick up a signal from someone on the other side of a wall, with whom the user never came into contact.
There’s probably no quick fix. But if more time and effort are invested, we may discover a more suitable technology that can provide secure cross-border contact tracing, which also doesn’t impinge on users’ privacy.
As we head towards our first COVID-era Christmas, many Australians will be excited that it is once again possible to travel domestically to be with family and friends.
While international travel isn’t yet routine, some people continue to fly overseas with valid exemptions.
Of course, air travel moving forward is going to look a bit different. Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce recently declared international passengers will need to have had a COVID vaccine, and this statement has attracted some backlash.
But until a vaccine is widely available — and even beyond — testing is going to be a requirement for some travellers.
Do I need to produce a negative test to fly?
For domestic travel in Australia, airlines do not require proof of a negative COVID test. But you will still need to follow the border requirements of each state. For example, Western Australia continues to restrict visitors and require a 14-day isolation period for those who cross into the state from South Australia.
Your airline should have up-to-date information on any quarantine or other requirements, which you should check before flying. You can also check with the state government of your destination.
For people wanting to travel out of Australia who have a valid exemption from the Department of Home Affairs, some airlines and countries do require a COVID flight clearance. This is paperwork showing you have recently tested negative for the COVID-19 virus.
The clearance requirements differ depending on the airline you’re flying with and the countries through which you’re travelling. This is also something you should be able to check with your airline, as well as the government of your destination country.
For example, Emirates states that Australian tourists flying into Dubai “must present a negative COVID‑19 PCR test certificate that is valid for 96 hours from the date of the test before departure”.
Where can I get a COVID flight clearance test?
In Australia, anyone can access a free COVID test through a public health facility, mobile testing centre, or GP medical centre that offers bulk billing. You might have to pay for the consultation with your GP if they don’t offer bulk billing, but the test itself is free.
However, the tests are funded through Medicare, our national health insurance program, paid through our taxes. Medicare funds are intended to support the health and safety of Australians, rather than to be used for travel purposes.
For a flight clearance certificate, you can speak to your GP for a referral to a testing clinic, but be prepared that you may be asked to pay for the test.
Certain airlines also list recommended clinics. If you know you need a COVID test to travel, it’s a good idea to check whether your airline has nominated any particular clinics.
If you need a COVID flight clearance test, you will need verified evidence, which the provider will send to you once they have the result. You will have to present a printed certificate when you travel — a text message won’t cut it.
And make sure you check the time frame with your airline (for example, if you need the clearance no more than 72 hours before travelling, you can plan accordingly).
The cost of the test and subsequent clearance certificate may vary depending on where you go. One report suggested it would be around A$140.
Testing is an important measure, but it’s not foolproof
A negative test result does not guarantee a person is not infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), particularly if they’ve been exposed very recently. This is why people quarantining after travel or exposure are not immediately released following a negative test result.
It’s also possible for somebody who is truly negative to pick up the virus in transit.
Even with a COVID vaccine, clearance certificates may still be required to protect other passengers on a flight. The intent of a vaccine is to protect a person from becoming very sick with COVID-19. But we don’t know yet whether a vaccine will render people completely immune to SARS-CoV-2, and importantly, whether it will stop the virus spreading.
Wherever you’re travelling — domestically or internationally — stay informed in the lead-up to your trip by checking the requirements of the state or country you’re travelling to, as well as the airline you’re flying with.
And if you have any questions about your own ability to travel, it’s best to consult your GP.
The United Kingdom yesterday became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use. Following a review by the country’s drug regulator, the UK government announced it will begin rolling out the vaccine next week.
Other countries are likely to follow soon, authorising the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and possibly other leading candidates too. Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration says it’s continuing to assess the Pfizer/BioNTech data.
The world has been eagerly awaiting a COVID vaccine, touted since early in the pandemic as our best hope of returning to “normal”. A big part of this is the resumption of international travel.
Certainly, an effective vaccine brings this prospect much closer. But a vaccine alone won’t ensure a safe return to international travel. There are several other things Australia and other countries will need to consider.
International travel in the age of a COVID vaccine
When people are vaccinated before boarding a flight, we can have confidence there will be significantly less COVID risk associated with international travel. However, the data we have at the moment doesn’t tell us everything we need to know.
Let’s take the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as an example. They have reported the efficacy of their mRNA vaccine to be 95% in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, having tested it on around half of the 43,000 participants in their phase 3 trial (the other half received a placebo).
The vaccine appears to be safe with only mild side-effects in some participants. And notably, the study included people aged 65 and over and those with health conditions that put them at higher risk of more severe disease.
However, the study hasn’t officially reported the efficacy of the vaccine against becoming infected, as opposed to displaying symptoms. While it’s encouraging to know a vaccine stops people getting sick, this point is important because if people can still become infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), they may still be able to spread it.
Ugur Şahin, BioNTech’s cofounder and chief executive, believes the vaccine could reduce transmission by 50%. This puts something of a dampener on vaccination being the key to the safe resumption of international travel.
At this stage, we also don’t know how long immunity will last for those vaccinated with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. But as the trial will continue for several more months, some of this data should become available in 2021.
Not everyone will be vaccinated straight away, so we’ll still need quarantine
It’s going to take months — or, more realistically, years — to vaccinate everybody who wants to be vaccinated. It won’t be feasible to expect every single person travelling internationally to be vaccinated.
There are several countries that appear never to have had community transmission. As of November, these included many Pacific island nations such as Tonga, Kiribati, Micronesia, Palau, Samoa and Tuvalu.
Then there are countries that have COVID-19 under control with little, if any, community transmission. Examples include Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam and Singapore.
People arriving in Australia from these countries pose very little risk and should not need to quarantine, whether vaccinated or not. For other countries, it would very much depend on their epidemic situation at the time.
Some organisations have already developed COVID risk ratings for different countries or jurisdictions. For example, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) rates the COVID situation in each European country as “stable”, “of concern” or “of serious concern”.
These risk assessments are based on factors including each country’s 14-day COVID case notification rate, the proportion of tests coming back positive, and the rate of deaths.
Clearly, people from high-risk areas or countries will still need to quarantine on arrival, unless they have been vaccinated. It’s likely Australia will develop a similar rating system to the ECDC to streamline these decisions.
Many countries now require a negative COVID test certificate before entry. For example, Spain requires a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours before travelling.
Similarly, some airlines, such as Emirates and Etihad, are mandating COVID testing before travel.
It would also make sense to have rapid antigen testing available at airport arrivals or border crossings. Although not as accurate as PCR tests, these tests would provide a second check that a traveller hasn’t incubated COVID-19 on the way to their destination.
Even with vaccination, testing will still be important, as vaccination doesn’t guarantee a passenger is not infected, or infectious.
Certificates and passports
Once COVID-19 vaccines become accessible, countries and airlines may well require visitors to produce a certificate of vaccination.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has suggested all Qantas international passengers from next year would be required to have a COVID vaccination certificate.
News of successful COVID-19 vaccine trials has raised hopes in the Pacific that the hard-hit tourism industry will begin to re-open in 2021.
Even before the vaccine announcements, there was excitement in the Cook Islands over a recent New Zealand government delegation to survey the country’s borders and discuss a potential travel bubble.
Cook Islands Private Sector Taskforce chairperson Fletcher Melvin spoke for many when he said:
The New Zealand officials are here, and that has been the biggest breakthrough for many, many months. We are hopeful they will get here and see we are prepared and confirm that we are COVID-free and we are ready to welcome Kiwis back to our shores.
At the same time, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern dampened hopes of a trans-Tasman bubble before Christmas due to different tolerances for community transmission in New Zealand and Australia.
Beyond the ongoing uncertainty, though, the possibility of a Cook Islands-New Zealand bubble raises further questions about how Pacific tourism can and should be revived in general.
Culture and commerce
Our research examines these questions and provides interesting insights into how Pacific peoples are re-imagining the place of tourism in their lives.
The global pandemic has effectively closed Pacific state borders to international tourists for eight months. With thousands of jobs gone and economies undermined, many people in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, Cook Islands and beyond have had to make huge adjustments.
In many cases, they have adapted to the lack of tourism income by drawing on their natural, cultural and spiritual resources. From this we can appreciate the strengths of Pacific cultures and how they might adapt to future uncertainties, including those associated with climate change.
Those affected by the pandemic now report wanting more time for family (including caring for the vulnerable), planting food and fishing, sharing surplus harvests, attending to cultural and religious obligations, relearning traditional skills and strengthening food systems.
Old ways should change
The crisis, while difficult, has allowed people to consider a more regenerative approach to tourism based on well-being and better work-life balance. As one Fijian elder put it:
Tourism must complement our way of life, rather than taking over.
The “old” tourism model is now seen by some as compromising their family’s well-being. Working long hours while commuting daily from a village to a hotel, or spending six weeks away from home at an island resort before getting one week off, is not ideal for parents of young children.
Many are on casual contracts and earn just above the minimum wage: FJ$2.68 (NZ$1.84) per hour in Fiji and NZ$7.60 per hour in Cook Islands.
Most tourism employees want tourism to return, but they hope for better terms, wages and working conditions. While a few called for caps on numbers in heavily touristed areas, others urged governments to open up new locations and promote off-season tourism.
People would also like to see greater local ownership and control of tourism enterprises, including joint ventures, building on existing strengths such as cultural or tropical garden tours and agri-tourism.
Life beyond tourism
Despite 73% of those surveyed living in households that experienced a major decline in income due to COVID-19, 38% were unsure about staying in tourism, or would prefer to find jobs in other areas.
Those interviewed sought more opportunities to pursue higher education, training in IT and trades, and wanted greater government support for creative industries.
This need for economic diversification is acknowledged across the Pacific region. But there has been little progress or policy development by governments to diversify economies in meaningful ways during the pandemic.
Perhaps understandably, given the severe economic pressures, many governments have focused on returning to the way things were. Fiji has enthusiastically urged tourists to return, opening “blue lanes” for yachties and a “bula bubble” for wealthy travellers.
Towards a new model
In this context the pandemic is being seen as an interruption, albeit welcome in some ways, to business as usual. As one Cook Islands elder expressed it:
This time to me is about restoring and renewing things, relationships, and giving our environment time to restore and breathe again before it gets busy, because I’m optimistic we will come out of this. People want to travel.
However, the pandemic should also provide an opportunity for Pacific countries to reset and chart a new way forward. When travel bubbles do open, they should do so in a way that benefits Pacific peoples, complements their way of life, and builds resilience in the process.
If and when Pacific travel is allowed again, the clear calls for culture and well-being to play a more central role in the lives of communities must be heard. One woman, a former resort employee in Fiji, put it well:
This break has given us a new breath of life. We have since analysed and pondered on what are the most important things in life apart from money. We have strengthened our relationships with friends and family, worked together, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. We have strengthened our spiritual life and have never felt better after moving back to the village.
Airline travel health advice has so far mostly focused on how to stay hydrated and avoid deep vein thrombosis. What passengers really want, however, is a heightened focus on infection prevention and disease control, free masks, complimentary hand sanitiser, and more space between passengers on the plane.
That’s according to our new study, published in the journal Infection, Disease and Health, which drew on survey responses from 205 frequent flyers across the world.
Airline ticket bookings are likely to soar as borders open between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland.
The aviation industry, which has been decimated by COVID-19, must work hard to restore customers’ faith in their commitment to infection control measures.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering taking a plane trip soon — and what the airlines can do to reduce risk.
Adopting a set of well established infection prevention and control measures will help minimise the risk of contracting COVID during a flight.
We would fly, if we had to — but we would follow all the same measures we would if we were catching a train or other form of public transport.
Those measures include, but are not limited to:
staying home if unwell. Even if you have the mildest respiratory symptoms, such as a slightly sore throat or hint of a fever, you should not go to the airport and you should not catch a plane. Self-isolate and get tested without delay
washing your hands regularly or using alcohol-based hand rub systematically
observing physical distancing
staying seated and avoiding touching your face
where physical distancing isn’t possible, wearing a face mask.
These are the same long-held set of recommendations you should be following anyway, whether you are catching the train to work or shopping in a supermarket.
Using these well established infection control measures routinely and systematically will render the risk of contracting COVID during a plane trip low.
Passengers want more from airlines
The main finding from our study is that the flying public — in particular, frequent flyers — want more from their airlines about how to keep safe from infectious diseases.
We surveyed 205 frequent-flying adults across Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn on what they thought airlines need to do to restore passengers confidence and sense of security.
75.6% reported feeling “somewhat” to “extremely” concerned about contracting an infectious disease while flying, particularly respiratory-related infectious diseases
Only 9.8% thought their preferred airline saw their health as an “essential priority”
86.8% wanted airlines to provide complimentary hand sanitiser
86.8% wanted airlines to provide complimentary sanitary wipes
64.4% wanted airlines to provide complimentary masks
90.7% wanted airlines to provide more information about preventing the spread of infections, which would make the majority feel safer to fly.
More than half of respondents reported never carrying their own alcohol-based hand sanitiser or sanitary wipes on flights in the past. Female respondents were more likely to carry alcohol-based hand sanitisers or sanitary wipes while flying.
We also asked respondents how often they wore a face mask before COVID, to protect themselves from infectious diseases while travelling by air. The vast majority (83.4%) said they never wore one.
However, the majority (83.4%) reported they would to “some extent” feel safe to fly if all passengers and staff were required to wear face masks while flying.
In other words, our study showed people are really prepared to engage in behaviours to reduce risk — some of which they expect airlines to support and others they would support themselves.
COVID-19 spreads around the world on planes
According to the International Air Transport Association, since 2020 began there have been “44 cases of COVID-19 reported in which transmission is thought to have been associated with a flight journey (inclusive of confirmed, probable and potential cases)”.
It’s important to note COVID-19 is a disease spread globally very quickly, via travellers who are infected.
Like many countries, Australia has imposed mandatory quarantine for international arrivals, which is where the infection in travellers is identified. That shows we — both passengers and airlines — must do all we can to implement proper infection prevention control measures around air travel.
Many airlines have introduced measures to reduce COVID-19 risk, such as temperature screening, physical distancing at check-in, and encouraging masks at the airport. That’s good but the research is telling us passengers want more.
As promising results emerge from the many COVID-19 vaccine trials underway around the world, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said:
We are looking at changing the terms and conditions to say for international travellers that we will ask people to have the vaccination before they get on the aircraft.
Vaccination is a really important way to prevent the spread of disease and it’s useful for airlines to signal vaccines are coming and are important to them.
We have some way to go before vaccines are available, and there much we don’t yet know — such as how long immunity from a vaccine might last or if booster doses might be required. So there are a range of factors to consider if airlines are to mandate vaccination for their passengers.
Joyce has also said it would be “uneconomical” to leave the middle seat in every row empty, instead pointing out its aircraft air conditioning units feature hospital-grade HEPA filters, which remove 99.9% of all particles, including viruses.
HEPA filters in closed spaces make good sense and are important. But they are not the be all and end all. If I am next to someone on a plane who unknowingly has COVID-19 and they are not wearing a face mask and they sneeze on me, and their droplets get into my eyes, nose or mouth, then I am at risk of contracting COVID-19 despite HEPA filtration in the cabin.
In other words, the best protection comes from adopting basic measures systematically. That includes staying home, isolating and getting tested if you have even the mildest of symptoms. It means regular hand hygiene, avoiding touching your face, physical distancing, and using a face mask if you cannot physically distance.
Practising these measures routinely, together with other measures like cabin air filtration, go a long way to keep us safe from infectious diseases when we fly.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews’ angst at the weekend about the multiple New Zealanders who arrived in Victoria via the travel bubble from New Zealand to New South Wales is, as much as anything, a pointer to the pressure the premier is under.
Andrews says his state chose not to be part of the bubble at this stage and he didn’t know these people were coming to Victoria. Now, he says, 55 have “turned up” from NZ.
The federal government counters that Victoria was at the meeting of the federal-state health officials committee where issues of New Zealanders travelling on were canvassed.
Andrews claims when Victoria asked the feds for details of the arrivals they were slow to pass it on. The feds deny a delay but say dealing with internal border issues is up to the states anyway.
The point is, this is a dispute of little consequence. New Zealand doesn’t have community transmission – the visitors are at the very bottom end of risk.
Andrews might be annoyed that these New Zealanders, and thus the Morrison government, have found a way to circumvent his refusal to sign up to the COVID “hotspot” definition and become part of the (one way) trans-Tasman bubble.
But Victoria has an open border for people going in (it’s a different matter for those exiting, for whom other states make the rules). So provided they’re told to abide by the current state restrictions, the presence of the New Zealanders is neither here nor there.
Western Australia is also complaining about New Zealand arrivals – it is in a rather different position because it has a hard state border.
The overall takeout is that those travelling from New Zealand in the “bubble” – which also involves the Northern Territory – might need to be given more information about the restrictions in particular states and internal borders before they leave NZ.
The micro takeout is that Andrews is picking an unnecessary fight. The verbal Victorian-federal tennis match over the New Zealanders is another indication of the tensions between the two governments.
Federal ministers tried to twist Andrews’ arm ahead of Sunday’s announcements about the next stages of opening in Victoria.
Andrews announced a range of restrictions would be relaxed from midnight. People can travel 25 kilometres from their home for shopping and exercise (widened from five). Groups of up to ten from two households will be able to gather in an outdoor places for exercise or a picnic.
Hairdressers can open, but people can’t have visitors over to watch next weekend’s AFL final (played in Queensland).
Retail isn’t scheduled to reopen open until November 2, when restaurants will be open to diners (with limits), and people will be able to leave home for any reason.
With new cases in single figures for the last five days, Andrews indicated the timetable could move faster than outlined.
The politically embattled premier is determined to minimise risks in bringing the state out of lockdown. The federal government and business community continue to rail. Andrews may judge that he’s taken the attacks from those quarters and the greater immediate danger to him is the possibility of a fresh tick-up in virus numbers.
The eventual fallout – in lost businesses, in the public’s judgement of Andrews – will be months, possibly years, in the coming.
In the meantime, whether his ultra-caution is excessive or well-judged will be fiercely debated.
He maintains it’s all on the health advice.
When asked how come his advice was at odds with the position of the federal government and epidemiologists who disagree with him, his edginess was obvious.
“I will put it to Minister [Greg] Hunt and anybody else
who has a view about these things, I don’t accept that anybody has a more complete picture of what this virus is doing in Victoria than the Victorian chief health officer, the Victoria deputy chief health officer, the Victorian health minister and the Victorian premier.” And so he went on.
Some Victorians will welcome the timetable as tangible hope in a bottle. More than a few small business owners will see the hairdresser across the road opening and ask, why not us?
The Australian Industry Group described the announcement as “plodding steps in the right direction”, while raising a nightmare scenario, saying businesses “still have no certainty that [they] will not be forced to shut again after they have been allowed to reopen”.
The federal government’s impatience with Victoria was on show again in a Sunday statement from Prmie Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt, which highlighted economic and mental health costs.
“Victoria’s three-day rolling average is now below two cases per day. Maintaining this result will make a strong case for the retail and hospitality sectors to reopen before the next review date in November,” they said.
“The continued health, mental health and financial impacts of these restrictions will be profound on many Victorians. That is why we encourage Victoria to move safely and quickly towards the NSW model of strong contact tracing and a COVID-Safe but predominately open economy.”
As Morrison and the ministers say, “the national picture is a positive one” in terms of case numbers and handling them. Yet politically, the national handling of COVID continues to fray.
The conflicts around the blunders and inadequacies that led to the Victorian second wave, the imminent Queensland election in which Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is relying substantially on her COVID record, with its tough border policy, and WA’s semi-secessionist mindset are all straining the federation.
The national cabinet initially managed dissent among the various governments. But presently the disunity is swamping the unity.
To the extent possible, it is important Morrison keep together what has become an unwieldy beast.
While COVID in Australia may be substantially under control when we say a thankful goodbye to 2020, 2021 will be a challenging year that would only be made more difficult by excessive fractiousness within the federation.
Long-term planning has delivered mass transit systems to cater for high-patronage, hub-and-spoke transport systems. Unfortunately, this has left many city residents without basic access to public transport services. And we could never have planned for the impacts of COVID-19.
Our previous plans were based on the best available data at the time. Today, these plans must be critically reviewed using new data that properly represent the world and our transport needs as they are now.
The work-from-home transition is well under way. Our current transport networks (except for roads, which have rebounded to traffic equal to or above pre-pandemic levels in some cities) are operating far below previous levels, even allowing for social distancing. This may not be the best time to break ground on major infrastructure projects planned under previous assumptions of population and demand growth.
2: Disadvantaged populations lack access to opportunities.
Public transport is key to enabling everyone in a population to be a productive member of society. Many disadvantaged groups cannot drive or afford car ownership. However, they also lack access to public transport, particularly in the outer suburbs.
Unfortunately, coronavirus impacts will hit the disadvantaged the hardest. If we want everyone to be able to participate in the economic recovery, we need to promote basic levels of access regardless of an individual’s circumstance.
Migration bans will greatly reduce short-term growth. Current projections show a population up to 4% smaller in 2040 than it would have been in a non-COVID world. This will further decrease demand for urban transit services as well as demand across many sectors of our society. These trends are important because much of our planning is based around these population growth metrics.
However, our suburbs still lack basic public transport services. If we want to increase patronage, we need to bring services to more people by improving coverage of our sprawling, low-density cities.
Over 80% of the population of our biggest cities live in the outer and middle suburbs, yet this massive majority have limited to no basic public transport service. Across our five largest cities, Infrastructure Australia reports, “public transport disadvantage in outer suburbs is significant”.
Job creation will be an important aspect of economic recovery. Yet too often we look to large construction projects as the answer. There is plenty of other job-creating work to be done in our communities.
We could, for example, increase the miserly funding for our piecemeal walking and cycling networks.
We could also expand on-demand services to suburban and rural residents who lack basic public transport access. On-demand transit does not follow fixed routes or timetables. Riders book a trip for a cost similar to a bus fare.
A focus on localised investment in the many neglected communities across the country will deliver major benefits. Money already committed to large projects that are under way represents sunk costs that may be too deep to renegotiate. However, future plans using public funds must be re-examined.
Investments should target disadvantaged groups and broaden access to transport networks, encouraging new potential users. For many, assistance in gaining access to the necessities of life will be invaluable during the coming economic recovery. Guaranteed access to groceries, medical services, work opportunities and recreational activities must not be reserved for the elite.
We need better localised public transport and we need it for the majority of citizens, not just those who live in the inner suburbs of our capital cities. Most regional populations lack even rudimentary public transport coverage at reasonable frequency.
Increasing services in these areas will create valuable jobs that will stick around, unlike large one-off construction projects. The money will stay local, going into the pockets of operators who live and work in their own community.
While our long-term planning is not to blame for our current situation, we need to develop for the future, not the past. The financial costs of building and maintaining our current infrastructure are not going away. However, we can no longer refuse to invest in many of our underserved communities.
It is time to ensure everyone, regardless of their income or where they grow up, has the basic services they need to be a productive member of society.