COVID-19 is affecting hundreds of thousands of Australians who are travelling abroad, disrupting their movement and in some cases making it difficult for them to return to Australia. We acknowledge that this is an anxious time for many Australians and their loved ones.
There have been rapid reductions in commercial flight options, including flight cancellations with little or no notice and increased restrictions on travel and transit. Many countries are closing their borders and restricting internal movement.
The situation is changing rapidly and will continue to do so. As well as the scale of challenges posed by the global Covid-19 pandemic, our capacity to provide consular services in this environment is constrained.
The Government’s assurance to all Australians abroad and their families is that the staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, whether at home or at our missions abroad, is working around the clock to provide information and assistance to those affected by this crisis.
The Government has strongly urged, and continues to urge, Australians overseas who want to come home to return as soon as possible. We acknowledge this is difficult for many.
Limited commercial flights are still operating from some countries and cities but we are aware that in many countries they are no longer an option. We urge Australians who do have access to these opportunities to act quickly.
The Government thanks Qantas and Virgin for their willingness to engage on continued services to key hubs for the purpose of bringing Australians home, where existing commercial flights are exhausted.
Last night, the Government also agreed to consider, on a case-by-case basis, supporting our airlines to operate non-scheduled services to less central locations to bring Australians home. These will only be done where it is feasible, where all other commercial options have been exhausted and where local authorities will permit such flights.
We do not have plans for assisted departures, such as those conducted to the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, Wuhan in China and Japan.
As many travellers are doing, it may be necessary for some Australians to stay where they are overseas, and as far as practicable remain safe and comfortable, including by following the directions of local authorities. Given the unprecedented scale of the global interruption to travel, the options outlined will not return all Australians travellers home.
For those of you who may be overseas in coming weeks, Australia’s diplomatic missions around the globe will do whatever they can to provide you with regular advice and support. This will include information on local restrictions, food and necessities, and other support. Please ensure you sign up to their social media accounts, as well as Smartraveller.