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Covid-19 vaccines could be required to travel to Australia, skip hotel quarantine, enter pubs, clubs and other private businesses and even access government services under plans being developed by the federal and New South Wales governments.
On Monday the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, revealed that despite the fact the vaccine was voluntary, her state could make it compulsory for travel or accessing government buildings such as Service NSW shopfronts, as well as giving businesses permission to make vaccination a condition of entry.
The Labor shadow health minister, Chris Bowen, responded by accusing the Morrison government of showing a “lack of leadership” with states now filling the “policy vacuum” with proposals of when vaccines will be required.
States and territories aim to agree to a uniform set of national standards of when the vaccine can be required before its rollout in mid-February. It’s expected it will be compulsory for aged care and frontline healthcare workers.
Australia’s vaccine policy states the jab is “not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate” but the Australian government and “other governments” may introduce proof of vaccination as a border entry or re-entry requirement.
A federal health department spokesperson told Guardian Australia that “while no formal decision has been made”, as long as Covid-19 remains a significant threat “people coming to Australia will be required to undertake appropriate risk mitigations”.
These “may include quarantine or vaccination, when vaccination is sufficiently available”.
“The Australian government is considering mechanisms for recognising an international immunisation certificate for Covid-19, and potential alternate [sic] entry and quarantine arrangements for returning Australians who may have been vaccinated if it is safe to do so.”
The comments open the door to shorter periods of quarantine than the current two-week hotel quarantine for those who have been vaccinated, or alternatives including home quarantine – despite the fact vaccination may not prevent virus transmission.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, has suggested that in addition to frontline health care workers, visitors to places with vulnerable residents, such as aged care, could be required to be vaccinated as occurs now for flu and measles vaccines.
Berejiklian told the Daily Telegraph that uptake of the vaccine could be “incentivised” by allowing “high-risk settings” such as pubs and clubs to require patrons to show proof of vaccination to enter.
“Clearly, opportunities to travel overseas or opportunities to enter certain workplaces or venues might be enhanced if you have the vaccine,” she reportedly said.
“Some of those decisions could be inspired by government, [and] some of those decisions might be inspired by the organisation themselves.
“Obviously the vaccine rollout and the vaccine policies are the domain of the federal government, but certainly in NSW I would be encouraging people to have the vaccine once it’s made available.
“I think they’re the conversations we need to have in the coming weeks.”
Berejiklian has previously suggested the Service NSW smartphone app could be modified to show someone’s vaccination status.
Bowen told Guardian Australia it was “appropriate for the vaccine to be voluntary” but “the government needs to be doing everything possible to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible”.
“The fact that states are having to develop policy shows the lack of leadership and policy vacuum left by the federal government,” he said. “The federal government is responsible for the vaccine rollout.”
The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Edward Santow, said it was “legitimate” to encourage and enable people to get a vaccine, but whether international human rights law would permit it as a requirement would “depend on the particular circumstances”.
“In some situations, a requirement to vaccinate might be permissible, provided this requirement is genuinely necessary for the protection of public health and the requirement is proportionate to the risk and operates in a non-discriminatory manner,” he said.
Santow said a government may require people working in a residential facility with residents at high risk to be vaccinated, but the requirement “would need to take into account the needs of employees who cannot safely receive the vaccine for their own health reasons”.
“The commission will assess any proposals by the Australian government to require vaccination as they are proposed.”
In August Scott Morrison caused a stir by suggesting the government would aim to make the vaccine “as mandatory as you can possibly make it” before clarifying it would not be compulsory.
The Qantas chief executive, Alan Joyce, has suggested vaccination could become a requirement to travel.
He said Qantas was considering asking passengers for proof of vaccination before boarding flights to and from Australia, and he expected other airlines would take a similar approach.
Source: The Guardian
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