International flyers may soon need to get virus vaccinations
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - International air travel could boom again next year, but with a new rule: travelers to certain countries must be vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can fly.
Good news about vaccine development has given airlines and nations hope that they will soon be able to revive suspended flight routes and wipe out lucrative tourism plans. However, the countries in Asia and the Pacific in particular are determined not to let their hard-won gains against the virus evaporate.
In Australia, the chief of Qantas, the country's largest airline, said that once a virus vaccine becomes widespread, a carrier will likely be required of its passengers before they can travel abroad or land in Australia.
Alan Joyce, Qantas chief executive, said he had spoken to colleagues at other airlines around the world about the possibility of a “vaccination pass” for international travelers.
"We're trying to change our terms and conditions to tell international travelers that we're going to ask people to get vaccinated before they get on a plane," Joyce told Australian television Network Nine.
He said they were looking for ways to electronically verify that people had the necessary vaccine for their intended goal, a daunting task.
"But we consider this a necessity for international visitors and people leaving the country," he said.
South Korea's largest airline has a similar message. Jill Chung, a spokeswoman for Korean Air, said Tuesday there was a possibility that airlines could require passengers to be vaccinated. She said that's because governments are likely to require vaccinations to lift quarantine requirements for newcomers.
While Korean Air is exploring various options for screening, any change by the company or other airlines would be the result of coordination with governments, Chung said.
"This is not something that airlines have to decide independently," she said.
Air New Zealand agreed with Chung's position.
"Ultimately, it is up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen borders and we continue to work closely with the authorities," Air New Zealand said in a statement.
Australia, South Korea and New Zealand have all managed to minimize the spread of the virus. They are viewed as success stories internationally, and a large part of their containment efforts have been focused on keeping infectious people out.
Australia has imposed some of the toughest border restrictions in the world since the pandemic began. It has closed its borders to most international visitors and allowed its own citizens to travel internationally only in special circumstances. New Zealand has also closed its borders, while South Korea has placed a two-week quarantine on all arriving passengers.
Australia, with a population of 26 million, has reported about 900 deaths since the pandemic began, less than many nations its size. South Korea has reported just over 500 deaths with 51 million people. And New Zealand, with 5 million people, has only reported 25 deaths.
Chung said there is already a lot of discussion within the industry to ensure safer travel during the pandemic. These include trials with Common Pass, a World Economic Forum-approved app designed to provide airlines with a standardized format for evaluating passengers' coronavirus test results to determine whether they should travel.
"As the world nears coronavirus vaccines and negative tests are also required for the exemption of travelers from self-quarantine in countries around the world, airlines need an effective system to screen passengers for vaccinations and tests," said Chung.
Several companies have tested potential viral vaccines with encouraging early results. Many people hope that vaccinations will be widely available in the next year, paving the way for a wider reopening of international air travel.
Australian Health Secretary Greg Hunt told reporters Tuesday that there had been no decision on border or re-entry rules for potential vaccines.
"Our job is to make the vaccine available to all Australians," he said.
Kim reported from Seoul, South Korea.
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