On Sunday, the Australian federal government announced that it will begin trials of a new vaccine passport program with select countries this week, marking a major step toward the nation’s broader reopening.
With vaccination rates rising, the Land Down Under is potentially mere months away from easing its stringent international travel restrictions, which have remained in place for nearly 18 months since the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously disclosed that his plan is to wait until 80 percent of the adult population is fully immunized before reopening to inbound or outbound foreign travel.
Minister for Trade and Tourism Dan Tehan yesterday revealed that the government will be testing the use of vaccine passports in cooperation with several key travel destinations through Australia’s diplomatic missions overseas.
Japan, Singapore, South Korea, the U.K. and the U.S., along with Australia’s neighboring Pacific islands, are among the countries that have been tapped for inclusion in the trial, according to CNN.
Tehan said that the vaccine passport system would utilize QR codes that are linked to the vaccination records and passport information of inbound or outbound travelers.
“So, when that international border opens we want to make sure we’re ready for people to be able to travel again and, you know, it’s incredibly important that we’re doing that preparatory work,” Tehan said.
Arrivals to Australia will need to have received COVID-19 vaccine types approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which currently include only Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen/Johnson & Johnson, and AstraZeneca (not in use in the U.S.) vaccines. The TGA has not approved any Russian or Chinese-developed vaccine brands to date.
These preparatory steps for reopening Australia’s international borders are being taken even as the country continues to contend with a widespread outbreak of COVID’s highly infectious Delta variant. The surge, which erupted this summer in areas of New South Wales (NSW), sent populous cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra into extended lockdowns.
To date, 42.6 percent of Aussies aged 16 and over are already fully vaccinated and 67.8 percent had had at least their first dose, according to Australia’s Department of Health data.
The government forecasts that it will achieve its goal of fully immunizing 80 percent of the adult population by late November, and is anticipating it will be able to open the nation’s borders by mid-December.
Morrison said he’s hopeful that those arriving in Oz once its borders reopen to the wider world will be allowed to quarantine at home, rather than being subject to the existing hotel quarantine system.