Interview with David Koch and Natalie Barr, Channel 7 Sunrise

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Travel bubbles, COVID vaccine rollout.
02 June 2021

David Koch: Plans are underway to extend the trans-Tasman travel bubble to the Pacific Islands, and there's speculation that flights to the US and the UK could be next.

Natalie Barr: Qantas boss Alan Joyce has made the prediction, saying the success of the two nations’ COVID vaccine rollouts could see them leapfrogging other bubble candidates.

Koch: Tourism Minister Dan Tehan joins us this morning. Minister, has Alan Joyce got the right idea? Could we see our travel bubble extended to the US and UK?

Dan Tehan: Well Alan’s definitely got the right idea because we want to build on the success of our travel bubble with New Zealand. Six weeks now we’ve had a two-way travel bubble and it is working very well – and can I say to all those New Zealanders who are listening, if you’ve got family members in New Zealand, make sure you’re getting them to come to Australia at this time. We do want to see whether we can extend to Pacific Island countries when it is safe to do so and then, potentially, places like the US and UK. But you’ve got to remember, at the moment, there’s about 3000 active cases or over 3000 active cases in the UK and the US each day. So, still a long way to go there for them in dealing with the virus – and obviously once they can get on top of that, we can start looking at these things.

Barr: And would that mean that it would be quarantine free? You could go to the US and the UK and come back and not quarantine like New Zealand?

Tehan: Well, obviously, ultimately, that’s what we want to achieve with these bubbles. But, as I said, with the US and the UK, we’re still 3000 cases a day or more, we’re a long way from that. But with some of our Pacific islands, where they are COVID-free, then absolutely we want to get a bubble, exactly the same we’ve got with New Zealand, so you don't have to quarantine as you move between countries.

Koch: US and UK vaccine rollouts are really fast at the moment. Last night, the UK for the first day, I think, in over a year, didn't have one death overnight. So, as the vaccination rollout goes through, would being fully vaccinated be your passport to either go there or come here without quarantining?

Tehan: Well, ultimately, we take the medical advice on that. The AHPPC, the medical expert panel that we set up …

Koch: So what did they say?

Tehan: Well, they’re obviously monitoring the situation. We have got new variants at the moment, so they’ve got to take all that into account, so there’s still a lot of uncertainty around what’s happening with the virus, especially internationally – and so we’ve got to continue to monitor that. But what we’ve shown is our New Zealand bubble is working, and it’s the way we can expand into the future. But there is still a lot of unknowns when it comes to this virus and we’ll take the expert medical advice as to how we expand that bubble because that’s what has stood us in such great stead in dealing with that here.

Koch: But it’s getting vaccinated which is the key.

Barr: Yeah, exactly. So, the UK have got 25 million people fully vaccinated. The US has got 135 million people fully vaccinated. We have got four. As Tourism Minister, how frustrating is that?

Tehan: Well, we vaccinated a million people in the last 13 days, so our vaccination rollout is ramping up and you have to remember, for the UK and the US, they took extraordinary measures to get their vaccine rollout going. They had to bypass or very quickly get approval for the vaccines, we obviously went through the normal procedures here through the TGA. So, they had very different circumstances in terms of deaths, in terms of virus rollout.

Koch: They didn't let them go unchecked. They waited until the FDA gave approval in the UK. They just- so they went through the right processes, but they just got their act together better.

Tehan: Well, no, they gave emergency approvals. Now, we didn't do emergency approvals.

Koch: Which we did.

Tehan: No. We didn't. We did the normal procedures. So, because of what was happening with the virus in the UK and the US, they went through an emergency approval process. We went through the normal approval processes.

Koch: Should we have done that?

Tehan: No, because we wanted to make sure that what we were doing with regards to the rollout of the vaccines, and the vaccine was safe as we could possibly make it. We were in a position to be able to do that.

Barr: But there are other issues. I mean, the US has opened up to a lot of people, not done the age brackets which has slowed ours down. Some people were thinking, we should have brought the army in, we should have given pharmacists the right to roll it out. There are other issues with why ours has been so slow.

Tehan: Well, obviously, we’ve vaccinated a million people in the last 13 days. Our vaccination program continues to rollout and continues to rollout apace – and we want to be doing everything we can to get as many people vaccinated as possible. And I say right here and now …

Koch: Because it is a race.

Tehan: Look, Kochie, if it was a race, how would you handicap at? I mean, look, let's get serious about this, this is a rollout, I can tell you, I'll be having my second vaccination this week and I say to all Australians listening to the show, ‘go out, get vaccinated’. That's the best thing all of us can do.

Barr: You know who it might be a race for? The people who are losing their livelihoods like the cafe owner we talked to in Melbourne last week who was nearly in tears because he’s about to lose 40 years of his livelihood, and the people we talked to, Jim Penman, who’ve lost their houses and have been through enormous stress. That’s who. They’re the people who say it's a race.

Tehan: Look, there’s no doubt that we need to get this vaccination program rolled out as quickly as we possibly can, and the Federal Government has provided economic support, the like of which we have never seen in this nation, to help and support those businesses. So we stand with them, we want to help them, we want to continue to support them through this. Our economic recovery out of this pandemic has been quite remarkable, we want to make sure that that continues.

Koch: Okay. Dan Tehan, bring on those bubbles. Thank you. Good to see you.

Tehan: Thanks, cheers. Good to be with you.

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