Australia Says They Might Not Open Borders Even After Vaccinating Everyone

Australia has jettisoned its vaccination goals, fearful of clotting risks of the AstraZeneca shot, and now says they could keep borders closed even after everyone in the country has eventually been vaccinated. Their risk-reward calculus is different than most of the world’s, and having kept Covid-19 largely under control they’re desperately afraid of any misstep no matter the cost.

The U.S. Is Being Cautious With Vaccines – Maybe Too Cautious

Here in the U.S. we’ve paused administering the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine after reports of blood clots in six patients (one of whom died). We don’t know yet whether the clots are directly related to the vaccine. They’re rare, but “six out of seven million doses” likely underestimates the risk,

  • There are probably more than 6 cases, that’s all that were initially reported
  • Since the clots may not manifest for a couple of weeks, it’s really 6 out of closer to 3 million doses (the number administered as of two weeks ago)
  • And the denominator perhaps should be greater, limited to the vaccinated population two weeks ago of women under age 55

And heparin, which is a common treatment for clotting, could make matters worse. So we want to have better treatment guidance for rare occurrences. Still, the risk of death is very low, less than one in a million. Put another way, if the entire adult population of the U.S. were vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson far fewer people would die from it than died of Covid-19 on Monday. The FDA has now sadly signaled that vaccines may be unsafe.

Australia’s Vaccine Caution Makes More Sense Because Covid-19 Is Less Of A Risk

The calculus is different in Australia, which has paused administering the AstraZeneca shot over clotting concerns. Both Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca use similar viral vector technologies. They have a stronger argument for pause than the U.S. does based on math. When weighing the risks, they don’t have many Covid-19 death in the past six months to consider.

  • The entire country of Australia is identifying an average of 10 cases of Covid-19 per day right now.
  • Fewer than 1000 people have died there since the start of the pandemic
  • Just 5 Covid-19 deaths recorded since October.

Australia is largely going about its life domestically. Last summer there was a Covid-19 outbreak in Melbourne after a quarantine guard had sex with an arriving passenger and brought the virus out into the population. But they’re passed lockdowns and internal border restrictions are not as onerous as they were. People gather maskless.


Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, Sydney

Vaccination Was Supposed To Allow Australia To Re-Open

What Australians cannot do is leave the country (except for visits to New Zealand). Foreigners cannot visit. And there are still citizens stuck abroad because of limits on the number who can return each day for government quarantine.

It seemed like vaccination was the answer, that Australia would re-open its borders once everyone had an opportunity to get vaccinated. Jettisoning AstraZeneca for those under 50, which they were relying on for the bulk of vaccinations, has meant likely giving up on being able to offer at least one shot to each Australian by year’s end. They’ve doubled their order of Pfizer from 20 million to 40 million doses.

Australia’s Government Says Vaccines May Not Be Enough

Australia’s health minister now says vaccinating the entire population may not be enough to re-open borders, which seems insane. (HT: Marginal Revolution)

Health Minister Greg Hunt has refused to guarantee Australia’s borders will open even if the whole country has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Australia’s borders have been shut since March 2020 and will remain closed until at least the middle of June, leaving more than 36,000 Australians trapped overseas, unable to return due to caps on the number of quarantine spaces.

…Mr Hunt suggested at a news conference in Canberra on Tuesday the international border closures could last much longer and stay in place even if the entire population had been vaccinated against the coronavirus.

…“Vaccination alone is no guarantee that you can open up,” Mr Hunt said. “If the whole country were vaccinated, you couldn’t just open the borders.” “We still have to look at a series of different factors: transmission, longevity [of vaccine protection] and the global impact – and those are factors which the world is learning about,” he said.

Australia Kept Out Covid But Is Losing At Re-Opening

The risk calculation is very different in Australia than much of the world. They aren’t facing health risks from Covid-19 currently, so they’re reluctant to use a vaccine that might have some risk and might cause as many deaths as Covid-19 is currently causing. And nearly the entire population remains vulnerable to the virus, so they’ve very concerned about letting it in.

This extreme caution makes some sense given the strategy they’ve pursued as an island country where the virus didn’t spread rapidly early on and was able to be contained. That conservatism though has leaked out into such a reluctance to make a mistake that they’re afraid to re-open borders even after vaccinating everyone. And other countries like South Korea have managed similar outcomes to Australia without the same level of travel restriction.

Could there be mutations that escape vaccines? And could Australia have difficulty securing booster doses should protection wane? Absolutely. But then they should be securing those additional doses now – ordering 100 million doses, not just 40 million – because the cost of keeping their borders closed is greater than the billion dollars booster doses that could wind up not needed would cost.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. After reading this, if I was one of those 36,000 Australians overseas and truly unable to get home, then I would seriously consider hiring a smuggler to get me home (the obvious method being by small boat on the north coast).

  2. Wow. Just–wow.

    I see this as a move for the Aussie politians to pander to the isolationist ‘right’.

    Covid is going to be around for a long time. How long will Australia maintain its closed border stance question? Forever?

    There is a simple solution to this:
    1) vaccinated visitors only, AND
    2) negative test prior to arrival, AND
    3) 72 hour quarantine after arrival, AND
    4) 2nd negative test before being released from quarantine

    Easy enough.

  3. Hahahaha. Can you imagine being an Australian now?

    Prisoner in your own country.

    Maybe they should just tell everyone ‘it’s better to die alone and isolated from the world, rather than risk a disease with a 99.8% recovery rate’

    Lolol!

  4. The Australian economy is not highly dependent on open borders. International tourism is a net loss for Australia ( pre-COVID AUD 20 billion more was spent by outbound tourists than incoming; domestic travel and international bubbles, eg NZ and others in planning will partially offset); the sector affected most is international education ( hundreds of thousands of current international students remain locked out of the country, having been overseas when the borders closed; virtually zero new students in 2021 and likely 2022). It’s very hard on those students ( but there’s very little public support for the whinging boffins in the universities, some of whom get paid 3-5 times the salary of counterparts at top UK universities).
    The outbreak in Melbourne was far more complicated, notwithstanding your prurient observation about the sexual relationship between the security guards and hotel guests.
    The national government has mishandled the vaccine rollout : it’s been pathetically inadequate and a national embarrassment. They are very lucky that the level of infection is low : anything more than the current death rate of 35 per million ( cf UK at 1800, USA at 1600) would see them crucified and thrown from office.

  5. I agree with Gary on the “abundance of caution” being too abundant. More people will die from blood clots while sick with Covid rather than from the vaccine.

    IMO, they will somehow work that logic out in the next two weeks and then be surprised when nobody wants to take the Janssen vaccine anymore. Somehow, the CDC has no idea what public perception means and how influential it is. You’d think they would have learned after 2020.

  6. @George
    The other side of that coin: Australians have free movement within the country: to eat out, go to entertainment and sporting venues, go maskless, travel domestically, all in a booming economy.Those with pressing need for international travel are able to apply for an exemption to the restrictions ( although not many do , fearful of the need to quarantine as they arrive at the overseas destination and upon return, ie making short duration trips impossible).
    There is a growing frustration about border closures, but public support for the ‘abundance of caution’ approach remains relatively strong.

  7. Eventually they will need to decide if they want to be part of the world or not. And at some point, the medical people will stop being allowed to run the show.

  8. I’d much rather be in Australia. I’d be free to move about without fear or threat in my city. Wouldn’t have had friends die of covid and seen all the death and trauma. Wouldn’t even be wearing a mask. Yeah, sign me up for that. I’ll take erring on the side of caution over 700,000 deaths and millions traumatized any day. (BTW, for those who talk cold economics the economy would be much better without all the covid, trauma, and deaths.)

  9. @Dougie that option may present significant risk.

    not sure if Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) that is a border protection operation led by the Australian Defence Force, aimed at stopping maritime arrivals of asylum seekers to Australia, is still in place, but the Aussies have zero tolerance for those that don’t enter Australia legally, and don’t accept illegal immigrants, refugees etc, for years they were immediately shipped PNG, and i believe they are still shipped to detention centers on Christmas Island.

    Aust is a semi socialist nation, definitely left of the US, socialized medicine, social safety net, much broader middle class, less poverty, and less ultra wealth.

    Maybe the Biden administration could learn from the Australian model to remedy the humanitarian crisis on the border, and protect the country’s citizens and legal immigrants that have followed the rule of law.

  10. I was just back in Australia for almost three months, and I have to tell you, I have not felt so free and safe for a long time. If it takes a little longer to get the borders right, I don’t sense that people inside the country will be that bothered. The bigger concern is getting stranded expats back in, which is a bit of a disaster right now.

  11. The comments here are bonkers. Everyone agrees that if you could have shut your island border at the start of the pandemic, it would have been much better – literally every country in the South Pacific, Oceania, Taiwan, etc have completely stopped covid with this strategy (as have many islands/almost-islands elsewhere – the Maritimes, Cayman islands, etc.). But the cost is extraordinary and cannot be justified post vaccine. The idea that we would make it illegal to travel abroad, to go to a family member’s funeral in the UK (or to have your British grandfather come to your wedding in Australia), etc, for an arbitrary time into the future in order to protect other Australians who refuse to get a vaccine is crazy. I say this as an expat in a country with closed borders who has not been able to see my nephew or his vaccinated family for over a year.

    The average person doesn’t leave their state in a given year and is incredibly nationalist. That is not a good reason to avoid having any kind of “end game” for covid. Australia and NZ in particular do not have one.

  12. @Kevin

    agreed, post vaccine is time to open up.

    i understand you can be granted permission with quantize requirements.

    i have a brother who travelled with his wife, and three children to NYC from Sydney to visit his daughter who had given birth to his grandchild, i believe they had to quarantine on return to Aus.

  13. This is another VFTW non story clickbait. Australia has done a great job keeping the virus at bay by closing the borders in a very very strict and managed way. The citizens overwhelmingly support this and happily comply because they are living life almost normally except for travel outside their state/country. The current government is doing very poorly at vaccinating and poorly in repatriating their expats but the country itself doesn’t have the urgency of the daily death, illness and business/gathering limitations happening in the US and most of the world.
    I suspect they have their hands full getting the vaccinations underway and have unlikely really planned what their border re-opening plan will be (what’s the international re-opening plan for the US? no one really knows, do they?). A few poorly chosen or vague words at a press conference is really not worth a headline and controversy here.

  14. @Paolo, you can do all of that in the US right now as well, but maskless only in some places. We can also leave the country and come back whenever. Seems pretty nice to me.

  15. @Kyle
    And where can you go without quarantine? Bosnia, Jordan, Croatia, Mexico?
    Great…enjoy. Lol.
    I’m keen to resume travel: but far less keen to see wave after wave from premature lifting of restrictions/poor behaviour.

  16. Australia is right. We and the much of the rest of the world are wrong. A constantly mutating virus means that vaccines are essentially useless as long as you keep introducing new people. Much of what we are doing is theater. Australia is actually winning. Winning means keeping the borders shut down forever and having a strict lockdown until all new cases stop.

    We are losing because we have decided to fight a war that cannot be won. Cannot have open borders ever again if you want to stop Covid. Only way we could win is to vaccinate everyone and keep borders sealed forever. Australia and New Zealand realize this.

  17. I have given up any hope of visiting Australia in 2021. Perhaps the country will open up by 2022?

  18. Not sure what Australia is thinking. If you can’t open up when your population is vaccinated when do they think they can open up? Covid is going to be around in the world for years at least.

  19. @Kyle that’s a false narrative worthy of Fox News. In the US you cannot do any of those things without the risk of getting a disease that has been proven to leave long-term problems to at least a third of the people who survive it, and of course has already killed more American that all wars combineda. Which American doesn’t know of someone that died of COVID, often his or her own aging grandparent? Plus have you ever tried scheduling knee replacement surgery during the peaks of the pandemic in the US?

    So yeah Australians are truly free, in the US not at all.

  20. They appear to think that COVID will eventually go away but is it more likely that this virus is endemic and cannot ever be eradicated. It will be among us forever. It may be that they are simply delaying the inevitable. The path they seem intent on only leads to permanent measures such forever sealing the border, mandating quarantines upon arrival for anyone, continual testing, requiring permission to leave the country, and full trip reports to the authorities by anyone and everyone, along with penalties, fines, and even jail time for not informing the authorities of your every move.
    And then to put this system in place, forever.
    Once this is in place, it would be pretty easy to mandate personal tracking of every citizen, every minute of their day. The government would know when you grocery shop, when and where you dine out, when you’re in your bedroom. Perhaps they could require implantable network chips.
    It’s to keep everyone safe, of course.
    To me that’s not winning and that’s not freedom. Calling it such is Orwellian.

  21. @nxs (Politicians don’t care about maximizing GDP. They maximize votes.)

    Only certain politicians. Trump tried (and ultimately failed) to ignore COVID to get re-elected and wrecked the U.S. economy; Australians didn’t and they GDP loss in 2020 was half of the -2.2% of the USA.

    All countries who crushed COVID have done better than those who allowed it to spread, starting from China, but also in places like Europe and neighbors like Sweden (-2.1%) vs. Norway (-0.6%) or Finland and so on. The lowest cost response was the one identified earlier on by economists and epidemiologists based on historical precedents: one big huge lockdown until the war on the virus is won, then life goes back to normal. Which is exactly what lucky Australians, New Zelanders, etc. have.

  22. Jake,
    again, you ignore that Europe and the US cannot close their borders. If you don’t understand how what is happening on the southern U.S. border and what happens in Europe with regularity has an impact on disease control, then you don’t want to understand.
    There never would have been a time when the U.S. could have eliminated covid.
    And the whole stated purpose of lockdowns in the U.S. was to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed.
    That hasn’t happened for several months and is not likely to ever happen w/ covid given that 50% of American adults have at least one vaccine.
    You and others can argue all you want but the U.S. does not have the legal basis to lock healthy people in their homes. A number of actions by Democratic governors to restrict movement and assembly have been overturned by the Supreme Court.

  23. “The entire country of Australia is identifying an average of 10 cases of Covid-19 per day right now.”
    This figure is largely returning residents, who ALL have to undergo supervised hotel quarantine immediately on arrival for 14 days. It also includes hotel guards and other staff, some of who remain unvaccinated at this point.
    There has been almost no cases of ‘community transmission’ recently, and those that do arise are quashed as a result of the effective test-trace-isolate regime.
    On reopening borders there little public appetite for keeping them closed beyond the end of 2021. Big business, which calls the shots with this government, will see to that.

  24. Life in the US is pretty much normal except for the morons wearing useless pieces of cloth over their faces when they go out, and we’re allowed to leave. I would much rather be here than Australia. We have our problems, sure, worst of all the usurping old fart in the White House, but at least we can travel.

  25. Ahh Joe. Tell your surgeon to skip the mask as he tries to remove your election butthurt.

  26. @Ed Is your view that Australians should be isolated from the rest of the world forever? My issue is that it seems likely that the virus will last forever and prohibiting travel forever is problematic. I would not feel the same way about some other solution, such as mandating vaccine and quarantine and testing for the long-term.

  27. @ Amazing Larry

    in fairness, it’s a relatively small group of politicians inflicting the masses.

    not unlike say discrediting all Californians over Gov Newsom policies.

    or blaming all US citizens, and legal immigrants for Biden’s border policy?

    i am surprised they haven’t impeached Biden for not upholding his constitutional obligation of defending our borders, now costing citizens and legal immigrants 60M weekly for hotel accommodation for illegal immigrants.

  28. @Babblespeak

    https://pubs.asahq.org/anesthesiology/article/113/6/1447/9572/Is-Routine-Use-of-a-Face-Mask-Necessary-in-the

    Do you really think that the (often contested) changes to electoral procedures in 2020 under the cover of the pandemic didn’t affect the outcome? Or are you just not complaining about them because Biden ostensibly won? The margins of victory in the key swing states were hardly overwhelming.

    https://ballotpedia.org/Changes_to_election_dates,_procedures,_and_administration_in_response_to_the_coronavirus_(COVID-19)_pandemic,_2020

    I don’t dispute that Biden won the election, but it is not obvious to me that the procedural changes were constitutional.

  29. Writing from Collaroy Beach Sydney Australia Friday 16th April , it was 24c. Today (75F,) bright and Sunny all day.They were supposed to start today a heat of the World Surfing Championships up the beach 400 meters away at North Narrabeen , unfortunately it had to be postponed due to small surf, they will try again tomorrow. In lieu ended up a the Collaroy Beach Club for lunch a great medium rare Scotch Filet and a couple of pints of Coopers IPA with friends.Sorry to digress what were we discussing Covid19?. Reading most of the comments emanating from this column, it is painfully obvious that those writing have little on knowledge of current day Australia or Australians,I can assure you the country is progressing very well life is normal , the only restriction is foreign travel with the exception of New Zealand. The restrictions on overseas travel does not seem to have affected most Australians most have decided that they need to explore their own country. The main complaints are coming from the Travel Agents , Airlines, Cruise companies and Universities ( which have had to take more local students therefore less funding). and let us not forget the Australian expatriates who seem to be coming out of the woodwork . There are supposedly some 40,000 still trying to get back , even though there were 40 thousand waiting to come back before Xmas and over 20,000 have come since then. It is estimated over 30,000 of these are located in India, the problem being is they have to go into Federal Government quarantine on arrival (@$3000 per person for 14 days) and which is limited to 5000 persons per week Australia wide which includes all countries Last week around 100 Australian Indians arrived in Sydney on a flight from Delhi , over 20 arrived with Covid19 , they were supposed to have been tested prior to Embarking. These people were the only cases of Covid19 in New South Wales reported in the past 10 days.. I have to say IMO having on and off worked and lived in USA for many years over a 30 year period there are to my mind major differences between USA and Australia in their people , culture and laws. Australia has Liberal party in power it provides Free Medical services including Hospital , Free Education , unlimited in time Social Security ( welfare , housing allowance)and a Basic hourly wage rate of US$18.09 per hour.. wealth more evenly distributed, with still lots of opportunity Put them all together that’s why people like to live here, it is the size of the USA with a population of 25 million about the same Texas.

  30. Further to @Neil Gibson’s glossy cameo of life in Australia today, it must be pointed out the reference to a Liberal government is quite the opposite to what Americans associate with ‘liberal’.
    In fact it is an increasingly right-wing (Republican-lite if you will) style of government with a Prime Minister ever sympathetic to Trump and his overt fascist tendencies and propensity for shameless lying.
    Hopefully we’ll be rid of him and his odious government sometime next year.

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