Qantas boss Alan Joyce says he is standing firm but flexible on the October 31 overseas travel date, as the Australian airline gears up to restart international travel with New Zealand.
Speaking from Sydney’s First Class International Lounge on Thursday, Mr Joyce said that after the launch of the trans-Tasman travel bubble, he would like to see additional travel bubbles established in the future.
Mr Joyce said while the airline is sticking with the October deadline, as touted during the company’s half-yearly results in February, “bubbles could happen a lot earlier”.
“We have complete flexibility,” Mr Joyce said.
“We are getting our aircraft and people ready for the end of October, but we have complete flexibility. If we need to open bubbles before, we can and that may happen. If we need to push things out because the vaccine rollout isn’t as fast as we would expect we can do that.
“But we still think the end of October is the best date.”
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Mr Joyce said that the key for a bubble forming comes down to the level of COVID-19 being recorded within the specified country.
“It all depends on what level of COVID is in an individual country, and what level of restrictions and testing will be put in place,” he explained of future bubble decisions.
“There’s clearly a lot of countries in the region, especially in the Asia-Pacific, and have had a tight control on COVID, but they give us market opportunities for Singapore, markets like Japan, markets like Taiwan for us to potentially open up.
“But also actively looking at the Pacific Islands, because there (are) real good opportunities in places like Fiji and the Pacific Islands to open up.”
Australia is New Zealand’s number one market for tourism, with New Zealand coming in at number two – behind China – for Australia.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Greg Hunt dampened international travel hopes even further, claiming even after the whole country is vaccinated against COVID-19 there is no “guarantee” borders will reopen.
With Australia’s vaccine rollout being pushed even further behind schedule due to AstraZeneca now only being recommended for people older than 50, there have been growing concerns about what it means for international travel.
However, Mr Hunt said having the majority of the population vaccinated isn’t a magic key that will unlock international travel again.
“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” he said at a press conference on Tuesday.
“And this was a discussion that in fact I had with Professor (Brendan) Murphy in just the last 24 hours, that if the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.”
Mr Joyce said that while the airline remains “flexible” on when and how they resume overseas flights and future travel bubbles, any setbacks on vaccine uptake could “leave Australia behind” compared to the rest of the world.
“There should be no reason why we don’t open up international borders,” Mr Joyce told media on Thursday, just days before the highly anticipated trans-Tasman travel bubble launches across the ditch next week.
“We can’t fall behind,” Mr Joyce stressed of Australia’s reopening.
“We know other countries are ahead of us (with the vaccine rollout) … and cannot be laggers here and fall behind the rest of the world. We will fall behind economically and some sectors will take a hit. I think the government is aware of that.
“Anything that speeds up the vaccination in Australia is a great thing, and gets us up to the numbers we are seeing around the rest of the world.”