Australian people are desperately seeking options for a safe international holiday destination. A recent research report reveals that they plan to take as many domestic and international trips in the 12 months - following a lift of restrictions - as they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. While Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly says changes to international border closures will be "one of the last things" to change even if a COVID-19 vaccine is rolled out nationwide this year, the AHPPC (Chief Health Officers group) had been asked to provide "detailed country risk assessments" to see if Australia could establish any more quarantine-free arrangements with other nations.
A travel bubble between Australia and Vietnam would offer an exciting opportunity; not only to kick-start the tourism industry in Vietnam, but also to deepen the strong links already established in our diplomatic, economic and political relationship. As Australia Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue Board Director and 2019 Alumni, Tuan Pham notes,
“The human desire to connect with others, explore, experience the world and create memories with friends and family is ingrained in us. Even during the tough year that was 2020, we saw domestic travel searches double in Vietnam and Australia. Creating a safe and open pathway to bubble opportunities would provide an incredible opportunity to satisfy this demand and boost the recovery of Vietnam and Australia's tourism industries.”
Singapore has extended entry to Australia and Vietnam without the need to quarantine, but Australian government bans on ‘non-essential’ international travel has hindered any traction. Negotiations with New Zealand are still underway and yet to be finalised, for what was initially proposed as the most logical option to open the international border, due to safety and proximity.
However, this has been a one way agreement, with New Zealanders entering Australia, without Australians being able to enter New Zealand. That said, there was an announcement from New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern this month advising that by March 2021, the offer should be reciprocated. In early December, the UK also announced that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19 would be rolled out in coming weeks, but uncertainty regarding its impact for international travel still remains and it may even present a new range of challenges.
Vietnam is a safe, popular and particularly favourable destination for Australians. Both countries share enviable progress regarding their response to managing the impact of the recent global pandemic. In Vietnam, the mortality from COVID-19 has been amongst the lowest in the world, with limited community transmission and only 35 deaths reported thus far, in a country of almost 100 million people. Likewise, in Australia, 908 deaths have been recorded, with a population of some 25.7 million.
Australia provides an equally safe destination for Vietnam. The Vietnamese ‘VFR’ (visiting friends and relatives) market is significant, due to the 300,000 Vietnamese people that now call Australia home. This diaspora provides the vital link to the youth of Vietnam to visit and stay in Australia for holidays, education and business collaborations. These entrepreneurial youth visiting their relatives will be the future of innovative business collaborations. According to statistics from the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment, there were 23,943 Vietnamese students in Australia in October 2020, making Vietnam the number four source country of international students in Australia.
For the state of Victoria in 2019, there were 12,763 Vietnamese students who contributed to the state’s largest export category, international education, with $11.8 billion in export revenue generated in total. The Victorian Government also recently announced that they are expanding their Global Education Network to Vietnam as a priority market, alongside Brazil and Kenya, as part of their International Education Short-term Recovery Plan for 2020/21.
The importance of the bilateral relationship cannot be understated. Prime Minister Scott Morrison visited Hanoi in August 2019 and in his address to the leaders of both nations’ business communities he said, “I see the potential. My government sees the potential. Our challenge is to realise that potential.” He continued by discussing trade relations, “In the first six months of 2019, Australian merchandise exports to Vietnam increased by 37%” and “Vietnamese exports to Australia are also growing…overall, two-way trade set a new record of $14.6 billion in 2018”. Late last year, Morrison also announced that Australia would spend $500 million on an “advance purchase” of COVID-19 vaccines to help regional neighbors bounce back from the pandemic; part of this package would include $21 million for the newly launched ASEAN Regional Centre on Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases.
Ho Chi Minh City based, Nanogen Pharmaceutical Biotechnology started its clinical trials of Nanocovax on 17 December 2020. Vietnam’s Ministry of Health plans to roll out a vaccination program in 2021 if the vaccine is successful, and is also in talks with the UK, USA, Russia and China to negotiate importing vaccines.
Professor Mary-Louise McLaws, an expert in infectious disease control from the University of New South Wales and a technical adviser to the World Health Organization, has included Vietnam on a list of countries that could form an Asia-Pacific ‘health bubble’. Similarly, Aviation expert Neil Hansford predicts that following the Pacific Islands and even Singapore bubbles, Vietnam and Cambodia are likely to follow.
Professor McLaws was part of the WHO’s first COVID-19 ‘roadmap’ meetings that took place in Geneva in February and offers the following advice, “Because of COVID, the opportunity exists for us to set up a bubble of knowledge, health, tourism and trade, so that when the next pandemic occurs, we can at least open up to countries that have similar approaches to trying to protect their nationals.”
One solution may be the CommonPass, a new digital health passport that looks to be a trustworthy model for validating people 's COVID-free status consistently across the globe.
Regardless of the impact that mass purchase, distribution and consumption of vaccines will have in global management of the pandemic, it is certain that there will still need to be agreements between countries who believe their response and management outcomes align. Several experts concur that Australia and Vietnam are perfectly positioned for such an arrangement. Replication of the system endorsed by Professor Kelly and AHPPC, establishing New Zealand as a ‘green zone’; would be the ideal model to initiate safe travel between Australia and Vietnam.
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(12), Tuoi Tre News, 01 November 2020, Australian epidemiologist includes Vietnam in Asia-Pacific ‘health bubble’ | Tuoi Tre News - vietnamlife.tuoitrenews.vn
About the author:
Dr Kelly Cassidy is an international higher education professional. Kelly was awarded a Master of International Tourism and Hospitality Management (first class honours) and a PhD from Griffith University. Kelly has been employed by Swinburne University since 2012 and was appointed Academic Director, Vietnam (with FPT Education) in 2019. Kelly is the Policy Manager at the Australia-Vietnam Young Leaders Dialogue.