Australian flag carrier Qantas still plans to restart international flights beyond New Zealand by the end of the year despite a major setback for the country’s vaccine rollout, the airline said on Tuesday. The Morrison government does not, however, intend to ease most border restrictions until the majority of Australians have been vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had originally said it would offer a vaccine to all eleigible adults by October but last week Morrison admitted that the inoculation campaign is likely to stretch well into 2022 and declined to even set a new end date.
In February, Qantas announced plans to resume flights to 22 of its 25 pre-pandemic international destinations at the end of October – a date it had chosen to coincide with the government’s original vaccine rollout target.
The airline suspended all regularly scheduled international flights in March 2020 as Australia slammed its doors shut to the world in order to keep COVID-19 out.
Australia has outperformed most of the world in combatting the pandemic but it has come at a price for the country’s tourism and aviation industry. Qantas had been banking on the vaccination programme to get its international business back up and running, meaning any delay could push back the restart of international flights.
“The government has not updated its timeline for the effective completion of the vaccine rollout and at this stage there’s no change to the planned restart of our international flights,” a Qantas spokesperson said on Tuesday.
In a statement, the airline said it was “closely monitoring the recent developments in the rollout of vaccines in Australia” and would “continue to have dialogue with the government.”
After a sluggish start to the vaccine rollout, the programme was hit by concerns about the AstraZeneca shot and the small risk that it might cause dangerous blood clots. As a result, the jab is no longer recommend for Australians under 50 years old and the government will now try to source more Pfizer / BioNTech jabs for younger people.
The emergence of virus variants that could evade the current generation of vaccines also means that Australia might not be so keen to ease travel restrictions or drop quarantine altogether once its vaccination programme is complete.
Analysis by Deloitte suggests that Australia won’t see a full rebound in international flights until 2024, although that estimate was based on the government’s target to vaccinate all Australians by October.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.