What’s worse – a society where CEOs treat people’s lives like balance sheet items, or a society where even intelligent people fail to understand the meaning of a simple quote?
That’s the question Australia is now grappling with.
Why? Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka gave her PR team a migraine on Monday, calling for international borders to reopen once enough Australians have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Why the fuss? Read the quote (made at a business lunch in Brisbane).
“COVID will be part of the community, we will become sick with COVID and it won’t put us in hospital, and it won’t put people into dire straits because we’ll have a vaccine,” Ms Hrdlicka said.
“Some people may die, but it will be way smaller than with the flu.”
“We’re forgetting the fact that we’ve learnt how to live with lots of viruses and challenges over the years, and we’ve got to learn how to live with this.”
By Tuesday the “some people may die” remark had gone viral, culminating in the hashtag ‘boycottVirgin’ trending on Twitter.
— Deb (@spinnakergirl) May 18, 2021
virgin aus CEO #boycottvirgin
to be fair, this applies to most multi-m/billion dollar company CEOs pic.twitter.com/Uds2XUvtB0
— claudia is not ok (@claudiarcade) May 18, 2021
Virgin Australia, in clarification, posted the following tweet.
The safety of our guests has always been our number one priority – nothing will change that. We have worked in lock-step with State and Federal governments to put the health and safety of Australians first, and we’ll keep doing that as we learn to live with COVID-19.
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) May 18, 2021
“The safety of our guests has always been our number one priority – nothing will change that. We have worked in lock-step with State and Federal governments to put the health and safety of Australians first, and we’ll keep doing that as we learn to live with COVID-19.”
The airline’s Twitter page also posted the following:
We agree with State and Federal leaders that eradication of COVID-19 cannot be the goal for our country. The question is not if, but when we will be sufficiently vaccinated to protect our people and our hospital system to open our International borders. ^EM
— Virgin Australia (@VirginAustralia) May 18, 2021
“We agree with State and Federal leaders that eradication of COVID-19 cannot be the goal for our country. The question is not if, but when we will be sufficiently vaccinated to protect our people and our hospital system to open our International borders.”
The incident has sparked much debate. Some, like points hacker Immanuel Debeer reckon Hrdlicka’s intentions have been twisted (or at least, misunderstood).
“Media outlets always go for the most click bait outrageous titles. Since people are lazy to read, they miss what was actually said,” Debeer posted on his Instagram story.
“If you read the article, the Virgin Australia CEO makes a LOT of sense,” he adds.
Over on Twitter, user @marquelawyers wrote: “A society, in which it is normalised for a corporate CEO to casually say that ‘some people will die’ like it’s a minor balance sheet item, is in trouble.”
Travel journalist Ben Groundwater responded to this by writing: “A society in which even intelligent people fail to grasp the meaning and intent of a simple quote is probably in more strife.”
A society in which even intelligent people fail to grasp the meaning and intent of a simple quote is probably in more strife. https://t.co/6zXnDZ7CsC
— Ben Groundwater (@bengroundwater) May 18, 2021
Opinion online remains split.
She didn’t say those words in that order but it was the sentiment of the speech. Open up asap. Some people may die but we are a business and we want to make money is the crux of her statement.
— Mason #messiahfromtheshire Riley (@Curtains_Drapes) May 18, 2021
Common sense is not a common attribute. The furore over this is quite alarming and seems to indicate a failure in any meaningful comprehension of what was said and how to navigate beyond the doona mentality.
— James 🦞 (@AusAbandonedUs) May 18, 2021
I guess we need to think about who the “someone” is tho. Chances are they will be one of our most vulnerable: the disabled. They are most at risk of covid. The only concept of “only a few people will die” is ableist. I don’t want my 2 disabled children to be a “someone”.
— Angela Cuming (@AngelaCuming) May 18, 2021
Flight Centre’s CEO has allegedly come out in support of Hrdlicka, as has Nationals Senator Matt Canavan. Canavan characterised Hrdlicka’s remarks as stark but factual on Sky News.
— Anth W. (@anth0888) May 18, 2021
WA Senator Jordon Steele-John however, supported the boycott.
— Senator Jordon Steele-John 🌏🔥 (@Jordonsteele) May 18, 2021
Conversation on Twitter also meandered into how the issue intersected with the problem of Aussies stranded overseas.
Unbelievable all these ppl whinging about the Virgin CEO’s comments, yet these same ppl posting the #boycottvirgin crap are the same ppl that are perfectly fine leaving #strandedaussies to die OS. GTFO!
— Just another abandoned Aussie ☠ #strandedaussies (@jorjan333) May 18, 2021
The border debate has been bouncing for some time in Australia, with the big question being: what constitutes “enough” Australians being vaccinated to open the borders (and what percentage of vaccination would equal what degree of door opening).
As the various quarantine bottlenecks we’ve seen throughout this last year show, it’s not a precise art. The science can only tell us so much – at some stage as a society we have to decide what trade-offs we are willing to make, and when, in order to open up again to the world.
— Dominique Sullivan (@Dom6666) May 18, 2021
Yet another reminder to appreciate every gulp of air, every day with loved ones, etc.