International travelers may need COVID-19 vaccines before they can board some airlines

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International air travel could take off again next year but with a new rule: Travelers to certain countries must be vaccinated against the coronavirus before they can fly.Encouraging news on vaccine development has given airlines and countries hope that they can soon revive suspended flight routes and dust off lucrative tourism ventures. But countries in Asia and the Pacific, in particular, are determined not to let their hard-won gains against the virus evaporate.

In Australia, the boss of Qantas, the country’s largest airline, said that once a vaccine for the virus becomes widely available, its carrier will likely require passengers to use it before they can travel to the overseas or land in Australia.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce said he had discussed with his counterparts from other airlines around the world the possibility of a “vaccination passport” for international travelers.

“We are considering changing our terms and conditions to tell international travelers that we will ask people to get vaccinated before getting on the plane,” Joyce told Australian television Network Nine.

He said they were looking for ways to electronically verify that people have the vaccine they need for their intended destination, a difficult task.

“But certainly for international visitors going out and people going out of the country, we think it’s a necessity,” he said.

WATCH | Qantas Airline CEO Alan Joyce explains the company’s position on COVID-19 vaccine requirements:

Qantas airline CEO Alan Joyce said his company is considering requiring international passengers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before boarding a flight as the industry appears to be heading into this direction. (Dean Lewins / AAP Image / Reuters) 0:48

Not “for airlines to decide independently”

South Korea’s largest airline has a similar message. Korean Air spokesperson Jill Chung said on Tuesday that airlines may require passengers to be vaccinated. She said it was because governments would likely require vaccinations as a condition to lift quarantine requirements for newcomers.

While Korean Air is examining several screening options, any changes on the part of the company or other airlines would be the result of coordination with governments, Chung said.

“It’s not for the airlines to decide independently,” she said.

Air New Zealand echoed Chung’s position.

“Ultimately, it is up to governments to determine when and how it is safe to reopen the borders and we continue to work closely with authorities on this,” Air New Zealand said in a statement.

Australia, South Korea and New Zealand have all been successful in minimizing the spread of the virus. They are viewed internationally as success stories, and much of their containment efforts have focused on protecting people with infectious disease.

Australia has imposed some of the toughest border restrictions in the world since the start of the pandemic. It closed its borders to most international visitors and only allowed its own citizens to travel abroad under special circumstances. New Zealand has also closed its borders, while South Korea has imposed a two-week quarantine on all arriving passengers.

Australia, with 26 million people, has reported around 900 deaths since the start of the pandemic, fewer than many countries its size. South Korea, with 51 million people, has reported just over 500 deaths. And New Zealand, with five million people, has only reported 25 deaths.

The app could evaluate the results of virus tests

Chung said there are already a variety of discussions within the industry to ensure safer travel during the pandemic. These include “Common Pass” testing, an app approved by the World Economic Forum that aims to provide a standardized format for airlines to assess coronavirus test results of passengers to determine whether they should travel.

“As the world moves closer to coronavirus vaccines and negative tests also becoming requirements to get travelers out of self-quarantine in countries around the world, airlines are feeling the need for an efficient system to filter passengers for vaccinations and tests, ”Chung said.

Several companies have tested possible vaccines against the virus with encouraging initial results. Many people are hoping that the vaccines will be widely available next year, paving the way for a wider reopening of international air transport.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters on Tuesday that there had not yet been a decision on border rules or re-entry regarding potential vaccines.

“Our task is to provide the vaccine to all Australians,” he said.

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