Virgin Australia makes COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, calls for international flights to resume by Christmas

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Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka says international flights could resume by Christmas and she is optimistic Australians will achieve desired vaccination rates to enable lockdowns to end and state borders to reopen.

But the boss of Australia’s second-biggest airline said she was firmly against vaccine passports that would impose different restrictions on people flying between states.

“If you do the math, across the country, we should be in a position where we’re 80 per cent vaccinated, you know, [at the] latest end of November, early December,” she said.

“If we’re well vaccinated, we have the most vulnerable, vaccinated and protected.

“I’m not sure what we’re waiting for, in opening up travel quarters with other countries that are well vaccinated.”

Virgin Australia has announced it is introducing mandatory vaccinations for all of its 6,000 employees.

Qantas announced the same no jab, no work policy on August 18.

The airline is aiming to have all frontline staff vaccinated by November 15, and all office-based workers by March 31. It also wants all its suppliers, including catering staff, fully vaccinated.

Ms Hrdlicka said the company had begun consultation with employees and unions ahead of its policy being finalised in September.

Transport Workers Union National Secretary Michael Kaine said Virgin’s consultation with workers must be genuine.

“Evidence has shown that vaccine hesitancy among aviation workers is not the issue, but other barriers like appointment shortages, roster requirements and fear of losing pay have impacted vaccination rates,” he said.

“Workers with genuine health concerns must receive support rather than be singled out, ridiculed or punished.”

No to vaccine passports, says Virgin boss

Australian airlines have been suffering large losses since March last year, when Australia closed its borders to most international visitors and banned residents from leaving without valid reason.

Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce has said he expects international flights to the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Asia to resume by Christmas, but has stopped short of pushing for mandatory vaccinations of airline passengers.

Ms Hrdlicka said governments, not the airline, would need to dictate whether passengers had to get vaccinations, but that she was against having vaccine passports.

“We’re very hopeful that Australia does the right thing and everybody does their bit to get vaccinated.

“The notion of domestic passports to move state to state fills me with dread, because it implies that we’re no longer behaving as one country.

“I think is an unhealthy thing for us as a country.”

But she said some requirements before people travel could be useful.

“That may be as simple as, you know, check-ins as you come into the airport, and your vaccine certification follows with you,” she said, adding that if Australians played their part in getting vaccinated, nothing should stop state borders reopening by year’s end.

“We need to test and learn and get confident in being open and free as a country again.”

Call to end state lockdowns

Ms Hrdlicka said there was a big hidden cost associated with state-based lockdowns.

“That’s starting to show its ugly head with respect to the impact on kids being out of have school, the impact on teenagers not being able to be social with their friends, their mental health issues that are surfacing, the increased rate of self-harm the increased hospitalisations for people who are struggling.”

Ms Hrdlicka had previously come under fire for arguing that Australians must realise that COVID-19 cannot be kept out of the country forever and that “some people may die” as a result of reopening.

On Monday, she said despite the high rates of hospitalisations in NSW, Australia was tracking towards a “position where the community can be well protected, and we can have COVID in the community and we can start to get back to normal.”

“I think that’s the point of optimism — using the data to get comfortable and start to take controlled experiments and take the steps forward that keep the community safe and start to get open.

“I think the debate should be solely about managing COVID,” she said, noting that the time for preventing COVID had passed.

“We were very successful for an extended period of time as a country protecting ourselves before vaccination, but it’s not a sustainable strategy,” she said.

Employer groups push mandatory vaccinations for workers

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced that from September 6, Australians who suffer injury and loss of income due to their COVID-19 vaccine will be able to claim compensation.

The scheme will cover the costs of injuries above $5,000 due to a proven adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination.

Claims will be assessed by independent experts, and compensation, to be paid by the Commonwealth, based on the recommendations.

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the government’s new no-fault indemnity scheme would remove the legal uncertainty for employers of all sizes administering vaccinations.

“Business is determined to help protect the health of the community, and one of the important roles we are playing is providing workplace vaccination programs to keep our teams safe,” she said.

“The job of business is to help accelerate vaccine take up and assist with the government’s roll-out.”

Australian Industry Group Chief Executive Ines Willox said the federal government had responded to the concerns of employers.

“If an employee experiences a serious adverse reaction to a COVID-19 vaccination, the employee is likely to pursue a claim under the government’s claim scheme rather than against their employer,” he said.

“This will be welcomed by employers who have been very concerned about their liability in this area.”

By business reporters Nassim Khadem and Rhiana Whitson (Original ABC Article)