Coronavirus: Bold plan to reboot overseas travel before vaccine arrives

A global health expert has proposed a bold plan that could see international travel rebooted before a coronavirus vaccine has been developed.

Nathan Grills, Associate Professor at the Nossal Institute for Global Health at the University of Melbourne, told Yahoo News Australia a traffic light system could be first trialled for Australia’s state borders before expanding it to an international level.

Under Associate Professor Grills’ proposal, people travelling from ‘green’ states into another Australian state or territory would be subject to a simple temperature test, while those travelling from blue areas like NSW would have to return a negative test before travelling interstate.

Pictured is a map showing the countries that have had the highest cases of coronavirus coloured in red.
A map shows the countries who have had the highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people. Source: Johns Hopkins University/CNN

Those in red states, like Victoria, would have to be forced to quarantine for at least seven days until they return a negative test.

Associate Professor Grills said after seeing how the traffic light system worked within Australia, it could be put in place at an international level.

“The bigger question is when do we open international borders? Using the same idea, coming from low-risk countries people would not be required to quarantine while people from the US, Brazil or India still required to quarantine for 14 days,” he said.

“You have to work it out at a domestic level but when working it out at an international level you would have all the learnings.

“For the international borders to stay closed indefinitely in hope of a vaccine is short-sighted and damaging to tourism.”

Associate Professor Grills said international travel could work on the same scale as Europe, which has adopted a traffic light strategy to allow travel across the continent.

How traffic light system could work in Australia

Associate Professor Grills said to first open the state and territory borders in Australia, all leaders would have to mutually agree to what numbers constitute a green, blue and red zone.

He said as long as there is no vaccine, there will likely be coronavirus cases and it was about how states and territories managed them.

Police in the southern NSW border city of Albury check cars crossing the state border from Victoria.
A global health expert says the traffic light system should be implemented for Australia's borders first. Source: Getty

“Contact tracing, quarantine and a good public health system will limit the impact of those outbreaks. Other things in place like social distancing and mask usage also make it safer to reopen those borders with restrictions in place,” he said.

“Assuming we can manage small numbers of infections in the community – because in the long-term we’re going to have infections coming in – we can’t just keep borders closed on the basis of fear.”

Waiting for a vaccine is a ‘pipe dream’

Associate Professor Grills said a vaccine wouldn’t necessarily be the be-all and end-all, and waiting to make a move until it was developed was a “pipe dream”.

He added they would likely not be 100 per cent effective and 100 per cent of people would not take it up.

“It may not decrease the infectivity but it may decrease the disease – like the flu vaccine doesn’t stop it spreading, but it decreases the severity and that’s partly what this vaccine would do,” he said.

Pictured are two Qantas planes seen at Melbourne Airport.
International travel could reboot if it operated under a traffic light system. Source: Getty

“It won’t solve the problem overnight – we won’t get to a magic point where we have no cases and can open up borders freely.

“To be all or nothing is unhelpful ... it disrupts trade and tourism is really suffering.”

Associate Professor Grills’ comments come after a travel bubble was created for people in Western Australia to visit Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands.

Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands have reported zero coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, and now deem it safe to open up to Western Australia with the state having just five active cases of coronavirus.

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