The chief executive of Virgin Australia has called on international borders to be reopened once the entire adult population has been offered a COVID-19 vaccine even if some people may die as a result.
Jayne Hrdlicka, who took over as CEO at the embattled airline last year, admitted that loosening the current ‘fortress Australia’ border restrictions would lead to COVID-19 spreading through the community and that “some people may die”.
“We can’t keep (the virus) out forever. It’s not in anybody’s interest to do that,” Hrdlicka told attendees at an in-person business conference on Monday. Australia has successfully kept the pandemic at bay with some of the toughest border restrictions in the world.
Australian citizens have been banned from going on a foreign holiday for more than a year and only citizens and residents are allowed to return to the country. Anyone coming into Australia from an international destination must quarantine in dedicated government-run hotels for 14-days.
“We’re all going to be sicker than we ever have in the past because we’re not exposed to the virus and challenges of the rest of the world,” Hrdlicka continued. “We need to get the borders open for our health and for the economy.”
Hrdlicka argues that border restrictions should be loosened as soon as the most vulnerable in society have been vaccinated but easing the current rules will be difficult because “the current narrative” has to change.
The Morrison government confirmed last week that border restrictions are unlikely to be loosened until mid-2022 at the earliest and there’s no indication of what the current system will be replaced with.
Qantas has delayed its planned resumption of regularly scheduled international flights (apart from New Zealand) from October to December 2021, although that timeline might slide further.
Virgin Australia later confirmed that it believes ‘zero-COVID’ cannot be Australia’s goal. “The question is not if, but when we will be sufficiently vaccinated to protect our people and our hospital system to open our international borders,” the airline said in a statement.
“We must learn to live with COVID-19 in the community in a way that protects the health and safety of our people but also opens Australia up to the rest of the world.”
With a fully vaccinated population, Hrdlicka believes the number of COVID-19 deaths would be less than what the flu causes each year. “We’re forgetting the fact we lived to learn with … lots of disease over the years, and we’ve got to learn how to live with this,” she said.
Photo Credit: Virgin Australia
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.