States not ready to exempt vaccinated Australians from border closures
12th June 2021

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State and territory governments say more Australians must be vaccinated before they will consider allowing people who have received both jabs to cross closed borders or avoid restrictions during a COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid says vaccine passports could be used to prevent unvaccinated people entering pubs, clubs and restaurants, especially if vaccine uptake does not get to the level required for herd immunity.

“The reality is we live in a society and we accept various measures that curtail our freedoms in order to protect other people,” Dr Khorshid said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses reporters following a national cabinet meeting on June 4.Credit:Getty Images

The Morrison government last week unveiled a COVID-19 vaccine certificate, accessible through Medicare records, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after the most recent national cabinet meeting that there was no agreement on how they would be used and he would leave it up to each state to decide.

But states and territories surveyed by The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age indicated they were nowhere near ready to consider exemptions for vaccinated people to cross closed borders or evade restrictions.

A Tasmanian government spokesperson said public health measures applied to people travelling from a high-risk area “do not vary with the COVID-19 vaccine status of the person”, and “current national and Tasmanian public health advice does not support such variation”.

The Northern Territory’s Labor Chief Minister Michael Gunner said even with 8.3 per cent of his population fully vaccinated, “we’re a long way off where we need to be to discuss targets”.

“The protection of our most vulnerable must be our focus and will dictate our decisions,” he said.

The West Australian government said it had taken a careful and cautious approach to the pandemic and “right now the key to reducing the strong measures required to contain COVID-19 in the future is to ensure the vast majority of Western Australians are vaccinated against the virus”.

South Australian government sources indicated that while no trigger points had been set, a higher level of vaccination coverage would allow changes that could include home isolation instead of hotel quarantine or a shorter quarantine period until a negative test result is received.

Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, said spring loomed as a key juncture at which the states’ approaches should be re-evaluated.

“I think there will be a crunch in September when more people are vaccinated,” he said. “At some stage we have to accept that part of moving freely is that COVID will spread.

“In September or October this year, once we have that [more widespread vaccination] we have to look at what risks we are willing to take and what restrictions will we tolerate.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has previously talked down vaccine passports due to her strong belief states should not close borders. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also dismissed the passports as a “thought bubble” that should be discussed through national cabinet.

But in January, before the vaccination rollout began, Ms Berejiklian suggested venues such bars and restaurants could be allowed to require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The AMA’s Dr Khorshid has been reluctant to endorse such an approach in the past. While “that’s still our position”, he now says the association recognises the need to be pragmatic and get the population vaccinated.

“I think we’d all prefer we never have to bring in direct or indirect coercion in order to get people vaccinated,” he said. “[But] there may well need to be restrictions on people’s access to places like pubs and clubs and restaurants and other indoor places where people congregate because that’s where the virus can spread like wildfire.

“If we got to a position where our vaccination rate was not enough to protect the vulnerable in our communities, then governments would need to look at measures to encourage people to get vaccinated or to put limits on people who aren’t vaccinated.

“People who do the right thing may well be rewarded down the track and people who don’t may face limitations. [But] I think we’re a long way from that.”

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