When we’ll know if we can fly overseas
Flight Centre boss Graham Turner expects to know by Easter whether international flights will resume, as the government reveals it issued 1.4 million fewer passports in 2020 than the year before.
Mr Turner says the UK rollout of a COVID-19 vaccination and Israel's plan to inoculate its citizens against the virus within a couple of months should provide clarity on the effectiveness of the treatment.
"The UK is undergoing a widespread vaccination program, Israel will be fully vaccinated in a month or two, so we will soon know how effective the vaccine is," he said.
"If it decreases dramatically, it has the desired health impact … We will know that by Easter."
He hopes the data will be positive and international travel will resume in the second half of the year, but only after the vaccine is widely rolled out in Australia.
"We then need widespread vaccination to happen in Australia and that could be by late July," he said.
"There should be no reason why international travel cannot resume once Australian travellers are widely vaccinated."
However, Australian National University professor Peter Collignon was not as optimistic about international travel resuming this year.
He said meaningful data on COVID-19 vaccines may be known well before Easter and, even if it was shown to be effective in preventing infection, it would not stop the spread of the virus.
"We are very likely to get meaningful data by Easter, I would think before that," the infectious diseases physician and microbiologist said.
"Israel is talking about having reasonable data within a week or two … and how much effect one dose has had to two doses, because all the vaccine studies have been done with two doses."
He said the vaccine was "not a silver bullet" and international travel was unlikely to resume even after inoculations were rolled out across Australia.
"It's not a silver bullet, it's a bronze bullet. It will be effective but not a cure-all," he said.
"The most optimistic vaccine is 90 per cent effective and that's preventing disease … it will not stop the spread as much.
"We are not really in a position to relax what we do until most the world is vaccinated and, realistically, that is not going to happen for another year or even two or three years."
While Mr Turner is optimistic international travel will resume this year, Australians have not shown confidence in heading overseas any time soon.
There was a massive dip in the number of passports issued in 2020, according to figures released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
DFAT issued just 882,622 passports in 2020 compared to 2.2 million in 2019 and 2.09 million in 2018.
Oddly, streamlined renewals, an online application for a lost or stolen passport, increased from 39 per cent in 2018 to 48 per cent in 2020.
"Adult applicants can use our streamlined renewal service for up to three years after their passport expires," a DFAT representative said.
AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS ISSUED
2018: 2.09 million (39 per cent streamlined renewals)
2019: 2.208 million (41 per cent)
2020: 882,622 (48 per cent)
Originally published as When we'll know if we can fly overseas