Any measures announced in this week’s budget will be made on the assumption that Australians will have access to a COVID-19 vaccine by next year, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has suggested.
And, while any forward estimates must by definition be underpinned by a set of assumptions, that one feels particularly optimistic.
Speaking in an interview with Sky News over the weekend, Frydenberg said in drawing up this unusual budget, Treasury has “factored in those issues related to the vaccine”.
“We have worked hard with international counterparts to secure that vaccine for Australia,” he added.
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When asked specifically whether the budget assumes a COVID-19 vaccine will be available in Australia, Frydenberg said, “the budget takes into account the possibility that that is the case”.
For businesses, that could mean the budget assumes a return to a normal — or almost normal — trading environment sooner rather than later. That’s clearly the optimal outcome.
But if budget measures assume a quick bounce-back, that could be problematic. We’re looking at a summer without international tourism; the reduction in JobKeeper support means we’re facing a wave of insolvencies; and in Melbourne, hospitality businesses remain shuttered still.
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the government had signed a $1.7 billion supply and production agreement with two pharmaceutical companies, to provide almost 85 million vaccine doses to Australians.
“Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful,” Morrison said at the time.
However, he himself admitted there are “no guarantees” here.
Australia has since also contributed $123 million to a global vaccine initiative, opening up the possibility of access to a wider pool of vaccines, if they pass clinical trials.
Through the World Health Organisation-backed COVAX initiative, Aussies could get their hands on a vaccine by the end of 2021. But, that’s in a best-case scenario, and would reportedly only provide half of what the country needs.
But, just to add to the uncertainty, recent research suggests a vaccine alone may not be enough to stop the spread of the virus, and therefore may not mean a return to business as usual anyway.
Should the budget be based on the assumption we will have a COVID-19 vaccine sooner rather than later? Why, or why not? Let us know what you think.