Australia has upgraded its international travel advice to the highest level, with all citizens being told not to travel overseas because of coronavirus.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was the first time travel advice has been escalated to “do not travel” abroad.
“Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction,” he told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
“For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don’t. Don’t go overseas.”
Mr Morrison said the biggest risk of spreading the disease had been from Australians returning from overseas.
“It is very important that Australians do not travel abroad at this time,” the prime minister said.
He said the ban on travel was indefinite, noting other countries had similar restrictions on arrivals.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made the decision amid a higher risk of contracting coronavirus overseas.
Healthcare systems overseas may come under strain and not be able to look after foreigners, the department says.
DFAT says overseas travel has become more complex with many countries introducing fast-changing restrictions on entry or movement.
“We now advise all Australians: do not travel overseas at this time. This is our highest advice level (level four of four),” the department’s advice says.
“If you are already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means.”
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued detailed advice on its website.
“You should contact the (travel) business directly to request a refund or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher,” the watchdog says.
“The ACCC encourages all businesses to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances.”
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has welcomed the decision.
“It is only helpful to New Zealand not to have further cases coming in from Australia,” she told reporters.
New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has left travel advice for Australia on level two, or “exercise increased caution”, citing “the threat of terrorism”.
The coronavirus pandemic has prompted New Zealand to issue advice for Kiwis not to travel.
“Get rid of any non-essential travel. There are very few reasons that I would think anyone should be considering travelling at this point,” Ms Ardern said.
New Zealand has 29 countries below Australia on level one, or “exercise normal safety and security precautions”, including Cuba, much of the Pacific, and Zambia.
While Labor supports the government decision to ban overseas travel, the party’s foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong says Australians currently overseas are confused about being told to return.
“It’s a very sobering thing for Australians overseas to be advised, so I think it would be a good thing if the government could provide more clarity and guidance about the reason that advice is being given,” she told ABC News.