Border decision is not a question of life and death – it’s far more important than that

Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka has been subjected to a battering after her comments about opening the borders even though it may mean people will die. Was she right? asks John McCarthy

May 18, 2021, updated May 18, 2021
Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka (Photo: QUT)

Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka (Photo: QUT)

Fancy being told by Scott Morrison that you have been insensitive.

Following last year’s “I don’t hold a hose’’ tour of the bush fire devastation, which followed his Hawaiian holiday, Morrison needs to tread carefully when slapping down people for being insensitive.

But Virgin chief executive Jayne Hrdlicka certainly seemed to overstep the boundaries with her statement that the international borders need to open even though some people will die.

Certainly, Virgin’s social media team were kept on their toes today as the company copped a drubbing over the comments. But the team quickly adopted Twitter lesson 101: don’t respond.

Many people construed that Hrdlicka was willing to sacrifice Australian lives for the sake of her company’s profits, although she didn’t come close to saying that.

On Twitter today, there were more than 100 comments under Virgin’s statement that tried to tone down their CEO’s statement. Few were favourable, many were vicious.

But National Party’s Senator Matt Canavan came to her support, so that’s something. And Flight Centre boss Skroo Turner said Hrdlicka was right but it didn’t sound good.

“The comments yesterday were starkly put but it probably is about time we have this conversation because we cannot stay under the doona forever,’’ Canavan told Sky News.

But let’s look at what she actually said because there was a bit of context that was lost.

“We can’t keep it (COVID) out forever,’’ she said.

“We are all going to get sicker than we ever have been in the past because we’re not exposed to the viruses and challenges that the rest of the world is dealing with so we need to get the borders open for our own health and for the economy.

“It will make us sick but won’t put us into hospital. Some people may die but it will be way smaller than the flu.’’

She may not have been right there.

In 2019, 705 Australians died of the flu. Last year that fell dramatically because of social distancing, lockdowns and hygiene measures.

So far this year there have been 240 reported flu cases Australia-wide and no deaths.

Australia has had 910 deaths from COVID.

Whether Hrdlicka was right or wrong she has no doubt learnt a lesson in stepping into field of landmines like this one.



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