EXPLAINER

Questions linger over business and vaccine passports as Australia charts path out of Covid

Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds a Covid update press conference at The Lodge. Picture: Elesa Kurtz
Prime Minister Scott Morrison holds a Covid update press conference at The Lodge. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

As Sydney grapples with the Delta strain, and Brisbane is forced to extend its own lockdown, Australians are learning what is needed to emerge from COVID-19.

The answer: vaccines. As many as possible, as quickly as possible.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is "common sense" for vaccinated Australians to have more freedoms than their unvaccinated countrymen.

But it's still unclear how the lives of vaccinated Australians will differ from those who turn down the jab.

What's the plan?

Get vaccinated to get out.

We're in Phase A of a four-step plan out COVID-19, meaning hard and immediate lockdowns to crush the virus. That's the situation until the vaccination rate improves drastically.

The handbreak will begin to lift once that reaches 70 per cent in each state and territory. And after a sluggish start to the nation's rollout, COVID-19 Taskforce Commander John Frewen believes that's doable by the end of the year.

It will be a return to almost-normality once we hit 80 per cent, with targeted lockdowns only needed in the most extreme cases.

It's not yet clear what percentage is needed to enter the final phase.

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Will events require vaccination?

Sport lovers should take notice.

Cricket Australia says you may need to have both vaccinations to attend this summer's Ashes, while the NRL will also ban unvaccinated spectators once everyone has had the chance to get the jab.

Mr Morrison expects a "keen interest" in mandating vaccines for large events, but insists he doesn't have the power to set a blanket rule.

"They're issues that those venues will have to work through with state governments. Ultimately, that'll be a decision for them," he told 4BC Radio.

It's happening elsewhere. The UK will require residents to prove they've been vaccinated to enter high-risk settings, like nightclubs, from September. Football watchers will likely be required to have proof-of-vaccination by October, too.

Protestors are hitting the streets of Paris in anger over the French government's demand for vaccine passports to enter a variety of public places, including restaurants.

A similar scheme is in place in Israel, where a "green pass" allows people to attend large events and some public places, like shopping centres and swimming pools.

The NRL will ban unvaccinated spectators. Picture: Keegan Carroll

The NRL will ban unvaccinated spectators. Picture: Keegan Carroll

Can businesses ban the unvaccinated?

This one is murky.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says many businesses owners want the right to turn away anyone who won't get vaccinated.

But the Prime Minister is urging them to "be careful about that", warning they could run into legal hurdles.

The question is being discussed by state and territory leaders, but is yet to be properly tested in the courts.

Dominique Allen, a discrimination law expert at Monash University, says it is a "complex [issue] that we have to think through".

And given the government plans to end the rollout by the end of this year, or early next, we'll have to do so quickly.

Associate Professor Allen says businesses can impose conditions for entry, provided they apply to everyone rather than specific groups, but may be forced to prove the demands are "reasonable".

She compares requiring vaccinations to the mask mandates we've seen through the pandemic, which many people were exempted from on medical grounds.

"It's unlawful if people with a certain attribute, such as age or disability, can't comply with the requirement that they are vaccinated, and the requirement isn't reasonable," she says.

That may prove tricky for people like a Queensland hairdresser who wanted to bar vaccinated people from her shop, claiming the vaccine caused "viral shedding of the uterus".

Vaccine passports could be the key to international travel resuming. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Vaccine passports could be the key to international travel resuming. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

How likely are vaccine passports for travel?

Very likely.

Fully vaccinated Australians already get a vaccination certificate, and there's speculation they'll eventually be used as a vaccine passport for international travel.

Mr Morrison talked with world leaders at the G7, and hopes Australia's certificate will be internationally recognised for travel by October.

Qantas already plans to make vaccinations mandatory for international travellers.

Talks are also ongoing with Japan, Singapore, and countries in the Pacific for a future travel bubble, likely to rely on vaccine certification.

All 27 EU members states, and a few neighbours, are rolling out a passport (digital and hard copy) allowing holders to skip quarantine and COVID-19 tests when they cross borders in the bloc.

The US has ruled out vaccine passports within the country, but is considering them for international travel.

Is that good news for stranded Australians?

In short, yes.

There are more than 38,000 Australians stuck overseas who want to come home, but international arrivals have been halved since the Delta strain took hold.

And ANU legal expert Ron Levy says Australia's constitution does not give them an explicit right to re-enter the country.

"There's very little scope for people to argue against Covid restrictions in Australia ... While it's not impossible for the [High] Court to invent that new kind of right, it hasn't done it yet," he said.

But a vaccine passport for Australians could prove their ticket home.

This story Questions hang over Australia's path out of COVID-19 first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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