Businesses knock back Australians vaccinated overseas

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Struggling tourism operators say they are turning away visitors who have been vaccinated overseas because there’s no easy way to prove their immunisation history.

The Victorian Tourism Industry Council and Restaurant and Catering Australia are lobbying the federal government to develop a more straightforward system and have warned the situation will worsen as Australia reopens its borders to international tourists.

Michael Johnson, owner of Moonlit Sanctuary in Pearcedale, says he had to knock back two groups of visitors last week who were vaccinated overseas because their records weren’t updated in the Services Victoria app.Credit:Scott McNaughton

“Tourism operators are already seeing people coming to their venues with international vaccination certificates, but they can’t accept them,” the council’s chief executive Felicia Mariani said.

“This is a critical issue now. It must be resolved.”

Returned travellers who want proof of their overseas COVID-19 vaccinations must provide verified and translated documents to a recognised Australian vaccination provider such as a GP.

The provider can then update the Australian Immunisation Register, a process that Services Australia warns can take up to 10 days. The returned traveller then needs to link their updated vaccination status to the Services Victoria check-in app, which is used to gain access to venues, restaurants and tourist attractions.

Fully vaccinated Singaporean tourists are set to start arriving in Australia in just two weeks, but it’s still unclear what proof of vaccination overseas travellers will need to gain access to these same experiences.

Restaurant and Catering Australia chief executive Wes Lambert said the current process was complicated, confusing and not well publicised.

He said the immunisation status of returned travellers and tourists should be automatically uploaded onto a new national app that could be used across different states.

Mr Lambert said the situation needed to be addressed urgently.

“They are announcing people are arriving from Singapore but how will they get into restaurants and pubs?” he asked. “They will not be able to prove they are vaccinated.”

Tourism operators like Michael Johnson are having to turn away visitors who were vaccinated overseas because there is no easy way for them to prove their immunisation history.Credit:Scott McNaughton

In Victoria, businesses must inspect patrons’ COVID-19 digital certificates on the Service Victoria app or in a smartphone wallet, or a printed copy of their COVID-19 digital certificate from the Medicare website.

Michael Johnson, the director of Melbourne wildlife park Moonlit Sanctuary, recently turned away seven visitors who had been vaccinated in the United Arab Emirates and China because they were unable to load their records onto the Services Victoria app. They were all able to produce their overseas vaccination certificates.

“It is very disappointing for the people involved and confusing. Why should they be barred when they are vaccinated?” Mr Johnson said.

He reopened his doors a week ago after a tough 20 months, and having to knock back customers was a real blow.

“I’m sure it’s something the government intends to sort out, but the time is now,” he said.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said the federal government was trying to fix the issue.

“Hopefully the system catches up,” he said. “There is a gap at the moment because there is no digital solution. Doing normal tourist things is proving a little difficult for travellers coming home.”

Peter Hosper, the chief executive of corporate travel agency Travel Authority Group, said if Australia was serious about the return of international tourism, it needed to make the process as easy as possible.

“If it becomes too hard to enjoy a destination and complex to go to a restaurant, business meeting or the Opera House, it’s a deterrent,” he said.

He said he’d like to see check-in apps go altogether and be replaced with vaccination checks for inbound and outbound travellers upon arrival and departure.

Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said state and territory governments decide when and where vaccination proof will be required, and what forms of proof will be accepted across different settings.

“They are also responsible for engaging with local businesses and educating them about proof of vaccination requirements in their jurisdiction,” he said.

The state government was contacted for comment.

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