Australia's outgoing chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, has offered a grim prediction during an ABC interview on the evening of June 26: Australia’s international borders will almost certainly remain sealed until a vaccine or effective cure for the virus has been found. There are currently hundreds of vaccines under development around the world, including one promising candidate here in Australia. However, many experts believe the earliest we can expect to see a globally available vaccine is late 2021.
Speaking to the ABC’s Andrew Probyn, Murphy – who is stepping down as chief medical officer to become the secretary of the department of health – said of the search for a vaccine: “Until that happens, we are going to need some sort of border measures,” adding, “there is a lot riding on [finding a vaccine] at the moment.”
The suggestion that international borders could remain shut for another 18 months is not just bad news for Aussies itching for an overseas holiday. Tourism is one of the principal cornerstones of the Australian economy, with international visitors bringing more than $60 billion to our shores every year. While Australia’s major cities may be able to weather the financial storm of losing their tourist influx, many towns and regional areas are critically reliant on seasonal tourism, and in the wake of such drastically impacted revenues during last summer’s bushfire disaster, many communities have already been pushed to the brink of economic ruin.
While efforts to synthesise an effective vaccine are being fast-tracked as much as possible, there is the possibility that one may never be deployed. The SARS virus for example, which killed over 8,000 people during an outbreak which lasted between 2002 and 2004, remains untreatable and attempts to develop a vaccine were never successful.
Quizzed on this potential outcome, Murphy urged optimism, saying “there is so much effort going into this vaccine development now – there are literally hundreds of candidate molecules and a number that are in clinical trial at the moment – I think it’s likely we will get a vaccine.”
As July approaches, several states are evaluating plans to reopen borders, with some arrangements being called into question due to the resurgent second wave of the virus that has emerged in Victoria. Northern Territory officials said visitors from Melbourne’s current ‘hotspots’ would be barred from entering when it reopens its borders to the rest of the country on July 17. Tasmania is now aiming to reopen its domestic border from July 24. Queensland is yet to officially confirm if it will reopen its border on July 10 as previously announced, whereas New South Wales, despite public pressure, has decided not to close its borders to Victoria, opting instead for a publicity campaign calling on Victorians and NSW residents not to travel interstate until the Melbourne outbreak is brought under control.