Government backbenchers are supporting Virgin boss Jane Hrdlicka’s calls for the nation to open its borders before mid-2022 even if some people die of Covid-19.
Ms Hrdlicka said the borders should open once most Australians, including the most vulnerable, are vaccinated and said we must learn to live with the virus like flu.
‘Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu,’ she said.
Government backbenchers are supporting Virgin boss Jane Hrdlicka’s calls for the nation to open its borders before mid-2022. Pictured: Travellers in Brisbane
Nationals Senator for Queensland Matt Canavan said the CEO had ‘put it starkly’ but agreed with her position, saying it was ‘about time’ the nation talked about opening the borders again.
‘Eventually when we open up, eventually when we ease some restrictions, there will be the unfortunate situation that some people, even with the vaccine, may get sick and ultimately die just like they do with the flu and other diseases,’ he told Sky News.
Borrowing a phrase Prime Minister Scott Morrison used to announced the easing of lockdown in May 2020, he added: ‘We can’t stay under the doona forever.’
Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka
Senator Canavan is among a group of backbenchers, including Jason Falinkski, the member for Mackellar in Sydney’s northern beaches, who support a faster re-opening.
But government ministers are being cautious as three in four Australians support keeping the borders closed.
‘We will listen to the advice of our health experts not business CEOs,’ Agriculture Minister David Littleproud told ABC Radio on Tuesday.
Mr Morrison refused to reveal the benchmark for reopening the international border, saying only that restrictions will remain in place until it is safe to do anything different.
‘It’s not safe to take those next steps right now, it’s not. But we’ll keep working on what the next steps are,’ the Prime Minister said on Monday.
He condemned Ms Hrdlicka’s comments on Tuesday, saying: ‘I regret that those comments were somewhat insensitive.
‘And so, no, I find it very difficult to have any part of what was said there.’
Business leaders also want the borders to reopen, concerned about the economic consequences of keeping them sealed for another year.
NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet agrees, and has warned against letting populism determine public policy.
‘It’s the role of political leaders not to be following the polling or looking at what focus groups are saying,’ Mr Perrottet told Sky News.
‘The job is to lead and communicate and bring Australian people with us.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to reveal the benchmark for reopening the international border. Pictured: Travellers arriving at Sydney Airport
Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said Australians must learn to live with coronavirus and be prepared for the disease to spread in the community when international borders reopen.
Dr Coatsworth said reaching zero cases of coronavirus in Australia was ‘perhaps unattainable’ and suggested vaccination rates of 90 per cent may be needed to control coronavirus within the community.
Australia’s vaccination rollout has entered a new stage, with people aged over 50 able to get the AstraZeneca shot from their family doctor.
The vaccines will be available at more than 4,000 general practices across the country, with some clinics to have their deliveries tripled to cope with the expected rise in demand.
Previously, people aged over 50 could only receive their jabs from vaccination hubs or respiratory clinics.
More than three million Australians have received their coronavirus vaccinations.
But 15 per cent of aged care residents have still not been vaccinated.
Some 999 residential disability care residents have been vaccinated as of Monday, Health Minister Greg Hunt has confirmed.
Mr Hunt defended the pace of the rollout in the sector after the disability royal commission heard it was an abject failure.
The federal budget assumes the borders, which have been closed since March 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, will open in mid-2022. Pictured: Sydney’s Coogee Beach in November
According to a Newspoll on Monday, only 21 per cent of voters believe the country should open up when everyone has been offered a vaccination, a view supported by several health experts including former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth.
Speaking on the Today show on Monday morning, Dr Coatsworth said Australians will have to get used to the virus circulating in the community next year.
‘I think it’s completely reasonable for three-quarters of Aussies to not want the borders open right now.
‘What we have to start a conversation with the community about is, what do we do in 2022,’ he said.
‘What do we do when the majority of Australians are vaccinated and immune, safe from hospitalisation, safe from death from Covid-19 but there’s still critical events going on that people want to attend around the world.
‘Do we still put them in hotel quarantine in 2022 at their own expense?
‘This is a conversation we need to get the community involved in. There will be Covid-19 circulating within the community in the future.’
Dr Coatsworth made similar comments in a speech at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons on Sunday in which he called eradication of the disease a ‘false idol’.
‘It is clear we will not have our borders closed indefinitely,’ he said.
‘We will not have quarantine stations in perpetuity while we aim for the false idol of eradication.’
‘At a point in the future when a significant majority of our community is vaccinated, there will be pressure to open our borders. We must not resist that. In fact, when the time is right, we should be leading the calls for it.’