New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian says about five million people in the state need to be fully vaccinated before borders open, amid growing pressure to set a timeline.
Her comments came as Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka added her voice to those saying Australia would eventually need to learn to live with COVID-19, saying “some people may die but it will be way smaller than with the flu”.
Ms Berejiklian said she was keen to see the borders reopen as quickly as possible, but only when safe to do so.
“Certainly in NSW we need to do around 10 million jabs to get the majority of our population to be vaccinated,” Ms Berejiklian said at a press conference on Wednesday.
“We’re edging towards a million jabs. We’re working as hard as we can.”
She said NSW was “bearing the brunt” of the virus, losing $1.5 billion a month due to the lack of international travel.
“I do think we need to be ambitious and New South Wales has prided itself in getting the right balance, keeping the community safe, but also pushing the boundaries on when we can start doing things in a COVID-safe way,” she said.
People aged 50 and over can now receive the AstraZeneca jab through their GP, while about 110,000 people aged 40-49 have registered their interest in receiving the Pfizer shot.
At a business lunch in Brisbane on Monday, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said COVID would “be part of the community”.
“We will become sick with COVID and it won’t put us in hospital, and it won’t put people into dire straits because we’ll have a vaccine,” she said.
“Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu.
“We’re forgetting the fact that we’ve learnt how to live with lots of viruses and challenges over the years, and we’ve got to learn how to live with this.”
Virgin Australia issued a clarifying statement on Monday evening saying it was working with state and federal governments, but the country’s goal could not be the eradication of the coronavirus.
“The question is not if, but when we will be sufficiently vaccinated to protect our people and our hospital system to open our International borders,” the company said.
“We must learn to live with COVID-19 in the community in a way that protects the health and safety of our people but also opens Australia up to the rest of the world.”
An increasing number of business leaders and politicians have been calling for an acceptance that Australia must risk allowing some level of coronavirus transmission to reopen borders to international travel and returning Australians.
Ms Berejiklian called on other states to follow NSW’s lead in repatriating Australians from overseas.
“Yes, it’s important for us to keep our citizens safe, but we also believe you can keep your citizens safe but also welcome Aussies home as well,” she said.
Ms Berejiklian said NSW was the only state to “consistently” meet its obligations to welcome back returning Australians.
“I just wish other states would have that same approach,” she said.
She said it needed to be accepted that returning flights would bring some COVID-19 cases into the country.
By Joe Cusmano