Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sent mixed messaging with his latest statements on a timetable to reopen international borders, saying mass vaccination is not a pathway to international travel.
Morrison said the rising number of positive Covid tests in the UK despite a successful vaccine rollout meant Australia could not rely on a vaccinated population as a pathway to a return to international travel.
“The vaccination program is incredibly important and that will give us more and more and more options going forward,” Morrison told 6PR radio.
“But I’m not about to swing the doors open and open up Australia to 4000 cases a day.”
Morrison said any rise in positive cases in Australia would result in ongoing lockdowns and state border closers.
“There’s no medical advice that I’ve received at any point in time, which gives a magical number of vaccinations that enable you to provide that level of assuredness to Australians about when that can occur,” he said.
“So what we’ve always learnt from this pandemic is there are no absolutes. The virus writes the rules.”
His statements were backed by Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who said the only way out of the current situation was to vaccinate the world.
“It will take a huge commitment from developed, rich countries that have vaccine manufacturing capabilities to share that with the whole world,” he said.
“That’s how we get out of this together.”
The federal budget assumed international travel would begin to restart from mid-2022, after the next federal election which his due between August and May.
But the new messaging from Morrison is a backflip from the start of the pandemic when he told states and territories they “can’t stay under the doona forever”.
Since then, Morrison has watched closely how wildly popular those leaders have become with their electorate when they take a hard stance on lockdowns and border closures at the first sign of a few positive cases.
A side effect of Morrison’s messaging is to remove any motivation for Australians to speed up the already slow vaccination take up rate.
In the UK, 77 per cent of people have received their first dose and 54 per cent both jabs, while in Australia only 5.5 million doses have been administered nationwide.
While case numbers in the UK are rising rapidly again as it returns to a more relaxed approach to Covid, deaths are still very low, currently around single figures on a daily basis.
The question Australia faces is whether it is ever prepared to live with Covid within its community. At the moment the polls suggest that it is not.