Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has doubled down on his pledge that all international passengers will require a COVID vaccine to fly.
He said on Thursday that the airline has made the decision because it has a “duty of care to our people” and it would put “safety ahead of popularity”.
The comments come the day after UK became the first major Western country in the world to approve a jab.
Speaking to journalists on Thursday morning, Joyce said, “As the Prime Minister said, it will become a binary choice for international travellers to either get the vaccine or quarantine for two weeks. And quarantine places are very limited.
“Our position on this is clear. We have a duty of care to our people and our passengers, and once a safe and effective vaccine becomes readily available, it will be a requirement for travel on our international services.
“There will be some exceptions for people who can’t – for medical reasons – take vaccines. And our flights to New Zealand will probably be exempt given their success at controlling COVID as well, just as domestic flights will be exempt.
“I acknowledge some people are opposed to vaccines in-principle. We respect that. But in return, we ask everyone who travels on Qantas and Jetstar to respect our safety protocols – which will include a COVID vaccine for international flights, at least until the pandemic is under control overseas.
“In the past week, we’ve asked some of our customers their thoughts on this: 87 per cent said they would take a COVID vaccine if it was required to travel internationally; 85 per cent thought it should be required for travel to at least some countries.
“We will always put safety ahead of popularity – but it seems the vast majority of our customers agree with us on this.”
Last night, the UK approved the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – also purchased by Australia – and would begin rolling it out by “early next week”.
Last month its manufacturer’s chief executive Dr Albert Bourla revealed the vaccine was “90 per cent effective” and would “help bring an end to this global health crisis”.
The rollout of the vaccine will be challenging as, unlike some of its competitors, it needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees.
Australia has purchased 10 million doses of the vaccine produced by Pfizer/BioNTech, which is one of the world’s leading candidates. The country has also agreed to deals with candidates from Novavax, the University of Oxford and the University of Queensland.
Manufacturing of the Pfizer vaccine is already underway and the business said it could supply up to 50 million doses in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion in 2021.
The vaccine works by injecting people with the genetic material needed to grow the “spike protein” of SAR-CoV-2 inside their owns cells, which elicits an immune response.
Phase three trials – the final, mass testing vaccines must go through – began on 27 July and has so far enrolled more than 43,000 participants, most of whom took the required two doses. The trial contained a mix of people from a variety of racial and ethnically diverse backgrounds.
BioNTech was founded by two married German scientists, Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci. It originally set out to develop new types of immunotherapy for cancer but has recently concentrated on tackling COVID-19.
COVID has been the biggest crisis Australian aviation has seen. In June, the wider Qantas group said it would cut 6,000 jobs altogether, or nearly 20 per cent of its workforce, and later revealed a further 2,500 ground handling jobs would be lost.
The drastic cuts followed the business’ full-year financial results showing a loss before tax of $2.7 billion and an underlying profit before tax of just $124 million.
Virgin, meanwhile, went into administration before cutting 3,000 jobs and axing the Tigerair brand.