ACCC denies Qantas and Japan Airlines deal to co-ordinate flights

Australia’s competition watchdog is set to try to block a deal struck between Qantas and Japan Airlines to co-ordinate flights.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is proposing to deny authorisation of the two airlines signing a five-year deal to co-ordinate flights, which the regulator says would ruin competition on travel routes between Melbourne, Sydney and Tokyo.

“An agreement for co-ordination between two key competitors breaches competition laws,” ACCC chair Rod Sims said.

“This proposed co-ordination would appear to undermine competition significantly by reducing the prospect of a strong return to competition on the Melbourne-Tokyo and Sydney-Tokyo routes when international travel resumes.”

Mr Sims said the deal would only benefit the airlines at the expense of customers.

Jetstar also flies to Japan but is a subsidiary of the Qantas group.

The ACCC said the deal would make it harder for another airline to fly on these routes.

“The airline and tourism sectors have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Protecting competition in the airline industry is critical to ensuring recovery in the tourism sector once international travel restrictions ease,” Mr Sims said.

“Granting this authorisation would seem to eliminate any prospect of Qantas and Japan Airlines competing for passengers travelling between Australia and Japan as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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Simon Birmingham flags no international business, leisure travel until 2022

Australians hoping international travel will return to normal next year have been dealt a blow, as the Federal Government warns borders are unlikely to reopen until the end of 2022 at least.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said despite the rollout of the vaccine, global outbreaks and new mutant strains, such as those in India, left the world facing as much uncertainty as ever.

He said this meant Australia’s international borders – which have largely locked Australians in since March 2020 – would likely remain shut well into next year.

“We recognise that if Australians want to be kept safe and secure … and given uncertainties that exist not just in the speed of the vaccine rollout but also the extent of its effectiveness to different variants of COVID, the duration of its longevity and effectiveness, these are all considerations that mean we won’t be seeing borders flung open at the start of next year with great ease,” Mr Birmingham told The Australian.

RELATED: Australia likely to be on ‘green travel’ list

“I think people appreciate, as we come to the point of delivering this year’s budget, it’s delivered against a global landscape of even greater uncertainty than existed a few months ago when we commenced the framing of it.

“The ferocity of recent COVID outbreaks, the uncertainty in many countries around vaccine rollouts, all create an environment in which, although Australia’s enjoying very high levels of business and consumer confidence, there’s a fragility that underpins all of that.”

Mr Birmingham spoke to The Australian ahead of the federal budget which will be handed down on Tuesday.

The Federal Government has insisted throughout the pandemic it was in no great hurry to re-open the nation’s borders.

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Vaccines could lead to international travel plan

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was pushing for a plan to allow vaccinated Australians to travel overseas and avoid mandatory quarantine on their return.

Mr Morrison said last month he had urgently asked medical experts to determine how it could be done.

He said the country’s “main goal” was vaccinating vulnerable Australians but an international travel plan was “what I’d like to see happen next”.

“This is what I’ve tasked the medical experts with, is ensuring that we can know when an Australian is vaccinated here with their two doses, is able to travel overseas and return without having to go through hotel quarantine,” he told 6PR Perth Radio in April.

“I think we’re still some time away from that. The states, at this stage, I’m sure wouldn’t be agreeing to relaxing those hotel quarantine arrangements for those circumstances at this point in time.

“But what we need to know from the health advisers is what does make that safe and what does make that possible.”

Singapore has been touted as the next likely destination for Australia’s overseas travellers, after the trans-Tasman travel bubble with New Zealand opened up last month.

Hong Kong has also reportedly flagged interest in a quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia.

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Jetstar announces hiring spree and bigger domestic planes

Jetstar will go on a hiring blitz to fill hundreds of new roles as airline switches some of its grounded international fleet towards domestic flights which are surging in demand.

Jetstar chief executive Gareth Evans revealed they were preparing for three Boeing 787s to be brought into service for domestic flights later this month, with a further two potentially added if demand persisted.

“As a low fares airline, we’ve always been nimble, responding quickly to opportunities, but the COVID crisis has led us to be even more creative in finding new markets and different ways to use our Jetstar Group fleet,” Mr Evans said.

“Operating our B787s domestically is a really good example of that — and I know our team and our customers can’t wait to see them flying overhead in a month’s time.”

The move comes after Jetstar’s operating schedule was whittled down from 700 daily flights to just 12 at its lowest point in the pandemic, with the majority of its staff stood down. The overall Qantas group permanently shed close to 9000 roles.

However in a major shift, domestic flights are now at the same levels they were before coronavirus and operations are expected to rise to 120 per cent by the end of the year.

Mr Evans said they would be hiring hundreds more for additional jobs across cabin crew, operations and engineering.

The larger planes will initially service flights from Sydney and Melbourne to Cairns and the Gold Coast.

Passenger capacity on these routes will increase by 135 seats.

Jetstar Captain Philip Schwarz said more than 100 pilots would be able to fly the Boeing 787s domestically from June 1.

“In the last couple of weeks we have had the opportunity to get some of the pilots back into the aircraft,” said Mr Schwarz, who is also one of Jetstar’s main training pilots.

Crew are being trained to work on the larger aircraft.

Flight attendants Genevieve Burke and Rebecca Kiervan were used to international flights on the 787’s and said they are looking forward to doing domestic routes.

“With international flying we spend a lot of time together, we become like a little family and the family has kind of been split up (since COVID-19),” Ms Kiervan said.

“Getting this aircraft back in the air is like getting the group back together.”

Jetstar is also bringing across six aircraft from it Japanese business to service Australian domestic routes.

The budget airline has also been helped by the fact budget rival Tiger Airways bowed out of the Australian market once the pandemic hit.

Virgin Australia scrapped Tiger Airways after it went into voluntary administration last year.

The majority of its international crew and fleet remain stood down while international borders are closed.

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Australia criticised for COVID negligence as hotel quarantine cases grow

Australia’s hotel quarantine program is under scrutiny as further COVID-19 leaks have led to more lockdowns amid claims of “negligence” in the country’s approach to airborne transmission.

Professor Michael Toole, an epidemiologist at the Burnet Institute who worked at the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC) for 10 years, believes authorities are not taking the risk of airborne spread seriously enough.

He has blamed the Infection Control Expert Group (ICEG), which issues advice on infection prevention and control issues, for not producing stricter guidelines.

Concerns were again raised this week after returned travellers managed to spread COVID-19 to others in hotel quarantine in Western Australia, sparking a three-day lockdown.

It was the second time this year the state has gone into lockdown after a quarantine leak.

NSW also confirmed a leak in a Sydney hotel after two families in adjacent rooms were found to have the virus last week. It follows an earlier leak in March when a security guard and another guest became infected.

The leaks saw WA Premier Mark McGowan request the number of returning travellers entering the state be halved, a move that he may want to make permanent, and Australia has now suspended flights from India.

While some on Twitter have defended Australia’s quarantine as being hugely successful despite the small number of leaks, Prof Toole doesn’t agree.

“14 leaks in 5 cities in 5 months is not just a few,” Prof Toole wrote on Twitter in response to a post from Dr Nick Coatsworth, who is advising the Morrison government on its COVID-19 response.

“It’s negligence and ICEG is responsible.”

In explaining his post, Prof Toole told he was concerned ICEG had not recommended the use of N95 masks instead of surgical masks, and a national standard for ventilation in hotels had not been set.

“We are still denying at a federal level that this form of transmission even occurs, we don’t even say that it occurs rarely,” he said.

“This is at the heart of the fragmented approach of protecting guests.”

RELATED: Victoria to build quarantine facility at Mickleham

The approach to hotel ventilation among states can vary widely. Victoria has analysed every hotel room in its system to ensure they have “negative pressure”, which means air flows into hotel rooms when the door is opened, rather than outwards.

South Australia has also assessed its medi-hotel where COVID-positive patients stay, although other hotels haven’t been assessed. Western Australia did a ventilation audit but did not implement changes in time to prevent the latest leak.

It’s unclear whether other states have done ventilation audits.

Prof Toole said a national standard needed to be set between state, territory and federal governments about hotel quarantine.

“Our international borders are no longer airstrips, they are the hotel corridors,” he said.

“All nine governments should be pouring resources into this issue, this is our number one defence and we are spending billions on vaccines but not spending much on making sure our borders are safe.

“Don’t penny pinch, N95 masks are not exactly made of gold. There’s no shortage of them because we hardly have any patients in hospital so we just need to do it.”

However, infectious diseases expert Professor Peter Collignon, who is a member of ICEG, disagrees, and said airborne spread was not as significant as some people feared.

“If aerosol is the predominate way the virus is spread then surgical and cloth masks won’t work and it could spread really long distances, like 20 metres,” he said.

“This is not happening, the majority of the spread is happening among close contacts and masks seem to give protection.”

An ICEG statement issued in January about the emergence of more easily spread variants, acknowledged that contaminated air currents could have contributed to transmission of the virus associated with leaks in hotel quarantine.

It said airborne transmission was believed to mainly occur because of specific actions such as singing or heavy breathing during exercising, especially in poorly ventilated, crowded indoor settings.

ICEG recommended the use of face and eye protection but stopped short of specifying N95 masks.

RELATED: How did India’s COVID crisis get so bad?

Prof Collignon acknowledges there could be airborne spread but it is not a significant source of infection.

“Where is the evidence that if you are wearing a surgical mask and eye protection, that there has been any significant transmission to staff?,” he said.

Prof Collignon said no studies had shown N95 masks gave more protection than surgical masks in a real-world situation.

“If surgical masks are used correctly they are very effective,” he said.

“I agree good ventilation is a good idea and not having rooms with ‘positive pressure’ but most of the time when there have been infections, it’s because basic infection control hasn’t been followed.”

He said it was impossible to bring the risk of infection down to zero.

“I think NSW Health has shown you can make the risk very, very low if you follow the appropriate procedures.”

However, Prof Toole said authorities should be aiming for an 100 per cent effective strategy.

“Particularly as it’s a fragile time, an increasing number of travellers are infectious, there are new variants and we have low numbers of people vaccinated,” he said.

“We’ve had a bit of luck so far but what if the next person who is infected has a very high viral load and goes to a bar? You can get a superspreading event almost overnight.

“You can’t presume that every time there are a few cases, that that’s okay – that’s too high a risk in my opinion.” | @charischang2

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40 at risk of SA strain after mercure outbreak

NSW Health officials are scrambling to contact a number of returned travellers they fear could have been exposed to the South African variant of COVID-19 in a quarantine hotel in Sydney.

Contact tracers are trying to determine whether there was a transmission of the South African strain of COVID-19 inside the Mercure Hotel in Sydney after three returned travellers who stayed in adjacent rooms tested positive.

An individual traveller and a family of two, all staying on the 10th floor of the Mercure Hotel on George St in Sydney’s CBD, tested positive during quarantine.

Genomic testing showed they had the same viral sequence for the B1351 variant, first identified in South Africa.

Authorities are hunting down any other returned travellers who stayed there between April 7-12.

NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said contact tracers had spoken to 36 of 40 people who had stayed on the 10th floor during that time.

“A number have gone into other states and territories and (those states) have been contacted,” Dr Chant said on Thursday.

“We are urgently escalating contact with the remaining four. We will be happy to update you on the investigation but at this time nothing obvious has come of that.”

It is the second instance of potential hotel quarantine transmission in Sydney within days, after authorities confirmed on Sunday that a family of three appeared to have caught Covid while quarantining at the Adina Apartment hotel.

Dr Chant said health officials would look at spacing out hotel quarantine to only allow every second room to be occupied.

That could affect the number of overseas travellers allowed to return to NSW, which currently sits at 430 a day or a little more than 3000 a week.

“Certainly, all of those measures are can open for consideration; particularly where we may have multiple family members,” Dr Chant said.

“What we do know is some of the transmissions have occurred when we’ve had multiple people in a room that have come down with the illness.

“As you can imagine, if you’ve got more people in an area, then the viral load in that environment can be much higher.

“So clearly some of those considerations, particularly where you’ve got multiple people quarantining in a family like setting, that may be totally appropriate we do look at that additional spacing as a control.

“No measure is discarded – we’re looking through all measures and we look closely at all of these incidents.”

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PM Morrison open to home quarantine, says ‘no rush’ on international borders reopening

A senior minister has left open the possibility of returning travellers wearing ankle bracelets to ensure they do not violate a home quarantine system touted by the federal government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday raised the prospect of fully-vaccinated Australians going into home isolation when returning from abroad in a bid to free up hotel quarantine space.

Employment Minister Stuart Robert was pressed on how the government would ensure returning travellers adhered to the rules when isolating at home.

“What sort of ideas would there be for this? Regular visits, inspections to make sure they’re home, ankle bracelets, some sort of monitoring, how do you do it?” ABC Insiders host David Speers asked.

Mr Robert did not rule out those prospects. He said fully-vaccinated Australians travelling abroad would be a “logical first step” as the country reopened, but conceded challenges in home quarantine would need to be ironed out.

“All of that will need to be worked through before a policy prescription goes live,” he said.

But he pointed to a number of measures implemented as he spent “three or four months” in home quarantine last year.

“The police would turn up at random times to our house, they would call. The Department of Health from various jurisdictions would call. They were some of the things put in place to deal with that exact issue,” he said.

Mr Morrison on Sunday confirmed the federal government was open to the prospect of home isolations in the second half of the year, beginning with fully-vaccinated Australians returning from essential travel.

“That would potentially open the door later for returning Australian residents to have a successful home isolation quarantine … If that works, you’ve freed up your hotel quarantine system, and that means essential workers can begin to come in,” he said.

But Mr Morrison warned a “lot of work” was required to ensure the system was as effective as hotel quarantine, saying the Commonwealth would work “one step at a time” with the states and territories in a “very controlled and very safe way”.

“With COVID, you’ve got to expect the unexpected. That makes those sorts of issues very hard to forecast,” he told reporters.

“I assure Australians that I will not be putting at risk the way we are living in this country which is so different to the rest of the world today.

“The issues of borders and how they are managed will be done very, very carefully.”

Health Minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday said there was no guarantee Australia’s borders would open even if the whole population was vaccinated, saying more needed to be known on the jab’s longevity and effectiveness against transmission.

Mr Morrison also claimed Australia was in “no hurry” to open its international borders and warned the process would be staggered.

“The idea that on one day that everything just opens, that’s not how this is going to happen,” he said.

The government’s already sluggish vaccine rollout was dented by advice the AstraZeneca vaccine, central to its strategy, should not be taken by people aged under 50 whenever possible.

The development forced the Coalition to abandon all vaccination timetables, but the prime minister insisted there was “no change” to its focus on immunising frontline workers and the elderly.

Mr Morrison last week questioned whether Australia’s vaccine supply could support a mass vaccination site proposed by the NSW government, which it claimed could vaccinate 30,000 people per week from mid-May.

He said he would welcome a discussion on the proposal at a meeting of national cabinet on Monday, but insisted it would not come at the cost of the rollout already underway.

“What I stress as that process would be to supplement, be in addition to, what the GPs are doing,” he said.

“It is not a matter of moving doses from GPs to state and territory distributions. It is a matter of using those additional state and territory opportunities there are to add to the capacity for those populations.”

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Labor push to re-establish vaccine targets

Australia needs to re-establish vaccine targets and cement clear goals about when international borders will reopen, deputy Labor leader Richard Marles says.

The opposition call comes after Scott Morrison reignited debate over home quarantine, revealing he had asked medical experts to develop a plan for vaccinated Aussies to travel overseas.

The Prime Minister last week axed the nation’s vaccination targets after the AstraZeneca vaccine was linked to rare blood clotting. The vaccine is no longer recommended for people aged under 50.

But Mr Marles said Australians and businesses needed meaningful targets.

“We do need to have some realistic targets going forward about when do they imagine the vaccination is going to occur,” Mr Marles told Sky News.

“Some milestones which then relate to when we can expect some normality.

“Not the kind of heroic comments that we have heard from the Prime Mnister.”

RELATED:Mass vaccination centres for over 50s under consideration

Mr Marles pointed to the government’s initial claims that four million Australians would be vaccinated by March – which was then pushed back to April – before a goal to give the population their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by October was also dumped.

Authorities have blamed the slow vaccine rollout on international supply chain woes as domestic manufacturing of AstraZeneca doses began in March.

Health Minister Greg Hunt has refused to guarantee Australia‘s borders will open even if the whole country has been vaccinated against COVID-19, prompting confusion about Mr Morrison’s home quarantine plans.

New figures released on Friday show 1.4 million vaccines doses have been administered so far.

But Mr Marles urged the government to explain what role vaccines played in the road map to normality.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines reduced the serious health consequences if people contracted COVID-19.

“The first reason for having a vaccine is for the individual health protection,” Senator Birmingham said.

“What is less clear are questions around the extent to which the vaccines reduce the rates of transmission.

“But it is that sort of modelling that really will determine, in the future, the speed with which you can reopen different parts of society and particularly reopen international borders.”

Senator Birmingham said no one could precisely give answers right now because the work was ongoing.

“That will be what informs our decisions, based on our health advice,” he said.

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Scott Morrison flags ‘mass vaccination’ to get covid jabs back on track

Scott Morrison has flagged “mass vaccination options” for Australians aged 50 to 70 from June for the first time, raising hopes it could hold the key to getting the majority of Australians protected against COVID-19 by the end of the year.

The prospect of Australians lining up at sports stadiums and big clinics could become a reality by mid-year with the government racing to consider options.

The Prime Minister has previously dismissed calls for mass vaccination clinics arguing that it was unsuitable in the early stage of the rollout for vulnerable, elderly people in aged care.

However, after pressure from NSW to consider mass vaccination clinics in recent weeks he’s now flagging the option of vaccine “hubs” to ramp up the program from June for people aged 50 to 70. That could be extended to under 50s in the final quarter of the year.

“Equally there’s an option to work – and I’ve discussed this with at least one premier – about how mass vaccination could be an option earlier, say in June or July, for those over-50 groups that are in the balance of the population,” Mr Morrison said.

RELATED: PM to put national cabinet on war footing

RELATED: PM warns of ‘dangerous’ border situation

Mr Morrison said the mass vaccination option – which would require a massive recalibration of the program – could hold the key to ramping up the rollout.

“We want to ensure we can get systems in place, to understand the risks associated with that, what resourcing is required and to be able to direct those programs as a national cabinet (meeting),” he said.

“That’s what the meetings are for.”

Stung by accusations of a “bungled” rollout, the PM abandoned a pledge to deliver a timetable to vaccinate all adults by the end of the year at the weekend.

But Mr Morrison hinted that may still be possible if mass vaccination clinics could be rolled out for those aged under 50 later in the year when extra Pfizer imports become available in the final three months of the year.

RELATED: Australia smashed in vaccine rankings

RELATED: PM scraps COVID vaccination deadline

“It’s important that we get people aged over 50, particularly those aged over 70, which is the target group right now, vaccinated, because they are the most vulnerable population, particularly as we go into winter,” he said.

“As we move into the second half of this year, when we were planning to move into the balance of the population, those between 50 and 70 and those of younger ages as well.”

The PM said the Pfizer vaccine deliveries will increase in the weeks and months ahead but the big imports of Pfizer and Novavax were expected in the final quarter of the year.

“So that will mean we’ll need to change our rollout to go to mass vaccination options, and that will have to be done in partnership with the states and territories,” he said.

“Now, if we can do all that then there is the possibility that can be achieved by the end of 2021. But at this stage, there are too many uncertainties.”

The PM also warned Australians that if international borders are reopened and the vulnerable vaccinated we may need to move to a “new normal” of tolerating some COVID-19 cases.

RELATED: What are our vaccine ‘Plan B’ options?

RELATED: Jab numbers plummet after blood clot link

“And if we want to treat COVID like the flu, then we have to have the same tolerance for COVID as we have for the flu,” he said.

“And people get the flu and there would be cases of COVID if the international borders were lifted, there would be cases and we’d have to be confident and comfortable that that would be in Australia’s interest to have potentially large numbers of cases of COVID, knowing that it would not lead to the horrific outcomes that we saw, in particular in Victoria, when the second wave ripped through particularly Melbourne.

“And so they are real legitimate questions that need to be worked through with states and territories. There’s a lot of focus on the daily number of cases, both by state governments, their chief health officers and their premiers, but also by the media.

“And so we would need to be, I think, of one mind that if we were to go to those steps later in the year or soon after, then they would have to be an appreciation that would come with case numbers for COVID in Australia. And we would have to be understanding of what that meant.”

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Qantas sticks to international travel plan despite COVID vaccine delay

Australia had been aiming to open its international borders beyond New Zealand from the end of October.

But after Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged that the majority of Australians will not be vaccinated against COVID-19 until next year, plans for airlines to be flying overseas was once more thrown into limbo.

In February, Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce announced at the airline’s half-yearly trading update that both Qantas and Jetstar international flights would make a comeback from October 31 in line with the government’s expected completion of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

RELATED: International travel for Australians likely won’t return until 2024

RELATED: What AstraZeneca changes may mean for overseas travel plans

But despite the revised vaccination advice, Australia’s largest airline still has its eyes on international flights making a return well before Christmas.

In a statement released late on Monday, Qantas said it was “closely monitoring the recent developments in the rollout of vaccines in Australia”.

“The government has not updated its timeline for the effective completion of the vaccine rollout and at this stage there’s no change to the planned restart of our international flights,” a Qantas spokeswoman said.

“We’ll continue to have dialogue with the government.”

RELATED: Vaccine side effects compared as Australia changes rollout

The announcement comes after a revelation last week advising that the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine was no longer recommended for under-50s, due to a small risk of blood clots developing in some recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccination.

As a result, the Pfizer jab will be encouraged for those under the age of 50.

As a result, there are concerns the changed advice will inevitably cause a major setback in the vaccine rollout plan, which Mr Morrison hoped to see every willing citizen vaccinated by the end of October.

The setback comes just days after Australian residents were given their first taste of overseas travel normality – with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the trans-Tasman travel bubble will be open from April 19.

The new corridor will means Australians can travel over the ditch and into New Zealand without needing to enter mandatory hotel quarantine.

The announcement of the travel bubble between both nations was dubbed by Ms Ardern as a world first of sorts, and an “important step” in post-pandemic recovery.

Qantas will significantly increase its trans-Tasman flying next week following the opening of the two-way bubble between Australia and New Zealand, with as many as 150 flights a week.

Earlier this year, Professor Brendan Murphy said he was hopeful international travel would be on the cards again from 2022, after vaccine programs were completed in Australia and rolled out extensively around the world.

However this week, Deloitte Access Economics’ latest quarterly business outlook predicts international travel won’t fully return until 2024, as international borders open slowly until then.

On top of that, Deloitte said quarantine for arrivals would likely remain in some form for years, as efforts continue to stop the virus being imported back into the country.

Deloitte economist Chris Richardson said that would have a bearing on overseas travel getting back to what it was pre-COVID.

“That keeps international travel – both inbound and outbound – pretty weak in 2022, and it may not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024,” he said, according to 7 News.

Deloitte’s quarterly forecast was prepared prior to Australia’s national vaccine rollout hitting a setback last week, which could further dampen expectations about the return of overseas travel.

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Scott Morrison warns reopening international borders as COVID-19 remains rampant ‘dangerous’

Scott Morrison has warned reopening Australia’s international borders while COVID-19 remains rampant could trigger a “dangerous situation” as criticism mounts over his vaccination rollout.

While stopping short of abandoning plans to reopen international borders on October 31, the Prime Minister’s comments suggest that international flight bans and restrictions for tourists may last even longer than expected.

“It’s not safe right now to open up our international borders. Around the world, COVID-19 is still rife,” the PM said in a Facebook Live.

“We are still seeing increases in daily cases, particularly in the developing world. We’re seeing that right now up in Papua New Guinea, for example, where we’re reaching out to give them a helping hand.

“But around the world, it is still a very dangerous situation because of COVID. We’ll keep moving quickly to vaccinate our most vulnerable population and we’ll keep those borders closed for as long as we have to, but only as long as we have to, and we’re already right now preparing for what it looks like when we can open up again.”

The Prime Minister has been accused of retreating into his Facebook bunker and refusing to come out after spending 24 hours defending his “bungled” vaccine rollout online.

Mr Morrison announced on social media on Sunday that he would scrap existing targets to vaccinate the majority of Australians, declining to mark the major announcement with an official statement.

On Monday night, he took to Facebook again to complain that “a lot of people have had a lot to say about it.”

He insisted Australia still had a lot to be thankful for compared to other countries and the fact that COVID was not running rampant gave us more options for the vaccine rollout.

RELATED: PM scraps COVID vaccination deadline

But Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said it was about time the Prime Minister stopped hiding on Facebook and fronted the media and the public.

“It’s frankly unbelievable that, at a time when Australians are crying out for clear information about the vaccine rollout, Scott Morrison has retreated to Facebook instead of fronting up to scrutiny,” Mr Butler said.

“This is Scott Morrison’s most important job for the year — get Australia vaccinated — and people deserve to know how and when that will happen.”

The Prime Minister said on Facebook on Monday night that he wouldn’t say what the targets were anymore in terms of getting everyone vaccinated by the end of the year.

“Now, I’ve been asked a bit about what our targets are. One of the things about COVID is it writes its own rules,’’ he said.

“You don’t get to set the agenda, you have to be able to respond quickly to when things change. And it’s certainly the case over the course of this past year, we’ve had to deal with a lot of changes. We’ve just had one recently regarding the medical advice on AstraZeneca.

RELATED: Overseas travel may not be back until 2024

“Now, I want to stress, particularly for those over 50, it is essential that we encourage you to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. The medical advice is very strong in supporting those over 50 getting the AstraZeneca vaccine because it protects you, because you are vulnerable to COVID-19.

“And for those who are under 50, particularly when we get to that point in the second half of this year, we have put together a vaccination program that is delivered through your GPs. See, you trust your GPs with your health. We trust your GPs with your health. That’s why we’ve chosen to predominantly distribute the vaccination program through your GP. So you can ask your questions, you can make the decisions about your health with the person you most trust about your health, your General Practitioner.

“Now, there are other distribution methods that we’re using, particularly with the states and territories, and we’ll put those also to good use over the course of this year, particularly when we’re moving to the balance of the population where there will be the opportunity later in the year, I think, to do things at a more ramped up scale.”

The Prime Minister’s revelation that it could take until mid-year to complete the first two phases of the vaccine rollout for people aged over 60 appears to be in stark contrast to original predictions that everyone in aged care would be vaccinated by Easter.

Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said there were tragically 11,000 COVID deaths in the world in the last 24 hours but none in Australia underlining our success in controlling outbreaks.

Professor Kelly said the timetable was to get the first two phases — frontline workers, aged care workers and over 70s — vaccinated by mid year.

“By mid year, we want to get those completed,” he said.

“The rest, with this new information we have over the last few days, we need to recalibrate what we are doing with the program. I won’t give a number or date. But we absolutely committed to providing the vaccine to anyone, any adult Australian, who wants the vaccine. As quickly as possible.”

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