Head of the federal Health Department Brendan Murphy has high hopes for international travel returning to normal as soon as next year, providing the success of the globe’s ongoing vaccine rollout.
A change to Australia’s quarantine laws could be coming in the next few months as well, with 14-day quarantines reportedly set to be replaced by home quarantines – or simply a shorter mandatory hotel quarantine for returning overseas travellers.
“As we get more and more Australians vaccinated, and as more and more countries around the world get vaccinated, we will start to progressively look at what sort of border and quarantine measures we have to do,” Mr Murphy told Sky News on Sunday morning.
“We might think about, for example, reducing the length of quarantine or more home quarantine, particularly for vaccinated people.”
Mr Murphy said while it’s still “too early to tell” the overall success of the rollout, he is hopeful for international travel to return in 2022 given the speed the world has responded to funding vaccine programs.
“When we get a lot of our population vaccinated, particularly the vulnerable people who are at risk of severe disease, it is for us as a nation to open up, reduce all of the restrictions, and make sure we don’t close any more state borders,” he said.
“12 months ago I would have said, there’s no hope we would have had vaccines in early 2021, and if we did, when we do get them I would have thought they’d be mildly, partially effective.”
Australia’s internal border laws will need to be fully lifted before any changes to overseas travel are implemented.
Things are shaping up on that front, with country’s two worst-hit states, NSW and Victoria, recording no new community cases on Sunday.
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Phase 1B of the government vaccination program is set to begin on Monday, with citizens over the age of 70 getting top priority for the jab.
Clinics around the country have received shipments of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been given to over 11 million people in the UK.
“The data that’s coming out of all of those countries is that both (Pfizer and AstraZeneca) vaccines are really good at preventing severe disease, preventing hospitalisation, preventing death, and are probably likely to help prevent transmission,” Murphy said.
However, Mr Murphy believes it is possible people will need an “annual booster” shot like the flu to stave off COVID in the future.
“It may be that COVID the virus is going to be with us, and everyone may need an annual booster dose like we have with flu,” Professor Murphy said. “As long as most of the population are protected, most people who get this virus have mild disease but as long as we’ve protected those vulnerable people I think we can get back to normal, but we just need to be patient.”