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Will Australians be able to travel again once a coronavirus vaccine is available?

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News of two potential COVID-19 vaccines showing promising results in late-stage trials has been welcomed by many, including those who itch to start the journey or return home.

Earlier this month, The Federal Government issued Australia’s vaccination policy, who said that while vaccinations will not be mandatory, a vaccination test may be required for people entering or returning to the country.

It was the first time the government had given a strong indication of what future international travel might look like.

Further details of international travel requirements are still apparent, but experts have provided an overview of what to expect when those overseas trips become possible again.

Beenshtë done many times before

One hand holds two Australian passports in Central Park, New York.
Australian travelers returning from a country at risk of yellow fever are already required to have a vaccination test.(ABC News: Melanie Vujkovic)

Certain vaccines were already required for trips before the coronavirus pandemic, depending on the origin or destination of the passenger.

For example, travelers must have an International Vaccination or Prophylaxis Certificate (ICVP) to enter countries that have mandated a yellow fever vaccination, or to leave countries with a high risk of polio.

In Australia, travelers returning from a country where yellow fever is a risk, including countries in Africa, South America and Central America are required to have a valid ICVP.

Epidemiologist Raina MacIntyre, from the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, said she believed a vaccination test for COVID-19 “would become a requirement” for future travel.

“Some countries that cannot vaccinate at all will remain COVID-19 hotspots in the future, and that is why vaccination will be a prerequisite for traveling a lot in the way yellow fever vaccination is required.” she told ABC.

However, viral diseases such as yellow fever carried by mosquitoes and Japanese encephalitis are associated with geographical locations, while COVID-19 is not.

Stationary photo sitting on the runway at Sydney Airport.
Some experts believe the COVID-19 vaccination test will be a requirement for future travel.(ABC News: John Gunn)

Paul Griffin, an infectious disease doctor and microbiologist at the University of Queensland, said allowing international travel is likely to have the potential to invite COVID-19 cases into the country, despite the availability of a vaccine.

“COVID-19 is so ubiquitous at the moment,” he said.

“If we were to allow international travel and be vaccinated, basically any domestic mitigation strategy would be completely overcome by COVID cases.”

He said it made sense to protect people traveling through vaccinations, but it may not be the only mitigation method to ensure the disease does not continue to spread.

Not all nations can wait for a vaccine

Jordan and Julia Erisman on a bike with four shore views.
Jordan (left) and Julia Erisman feel safe during their honeymoon because of the extra safety precautions required to travel.(Supplied)

Nations heavily dependent on tourism and migration have seen an influx of cases since the opening of their borders to travelers, the island of Tahiti in French Polynesia being one of them.

Its economy faced a financial crisis during the pandemic and this pushed the Government to open its borders to international tourists in July.

Within a month, he had registered 70 new cases of COVID-19, with bars and restaurants visited by tourists identified as hot spots for broadcasting, but French territory continued to encourage people to visit.

The American couple, Julia Erisman and her husband Jordan, told ABC they were able to spend their honeymoon in Bora Bora last week due to additional security measures imposed by the French and Polynesian Government.

Precautions included a negative COVID-19 test result before travel, and then another test four days after arrival.

“We feel safer here than back home.”

In Singapore, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the country “cannot wait” for a vaccine, according to local media reports.

The island state has no prospects for domestic air travel and its partially state-owned aviation industry has been struggling.

From November 22, Singapore will allow quarantine trips between Hong Kong, but arrivals will be required to take a COVID-19 test and give a negative test result 72 hours before departure.

Visitors will also need to download the on-site contact application.

Singapore has opened its borders to tourists from certain countries including Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, mainland China and Vietnam.

In addition to Australia, other nations with closed borders to tourists include Vietnam, Chile and Fiji.

The vaccine is not a silver bullet to open the trip

A health professional with gloves injecting into a person's arm.
Experts say there are still many factors in the air before we know when we can travel again.(AP: Ted S. Warren)

While there are a number of promising candidates for vaccination, they have not yet been approved, Dr Griffin said.

“We will need that information before we can say exactly how it will be implemented and what kind of restrictions will be associated with it,” he said.

“And this will not be the only solution, there will be a need for simultaneous facilitation strategies, even simple things like masks where people can not socially distance themselves.”

Dr Griffin also said there had to be enough vaccine coverage in a traveler’s country of origin and at their destinations before things started to open.

“It will take a long time to get from throwing a vaccine to reaching the stage where the coverage is enough to reduce the risk,” he said.

There is also no guarantee that the general population will be eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19, which may further impede progress towards the reopening or admission of foreign visitors.

In August, Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said those who refused vaccination would need “some kind of boost”.

Hassan Vally, associate professor in the Department of Public Health at La Trobe University, told ABC that there were other factors to consider, including how much protection a vaccine could provide.

“We still do not know how long the immunity lasts and so regardless of whether you have had a natural infection or if you have been vaccinated, we are not sure how long it provides protection,” he said.

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