The federal government has agreed to pursue limited rescue flights for Australians stranded overseas during the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the government would consider, on a case-by-case basis, supporting airlines to operate non-scheduled services to remote locations.
“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,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.
“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.”
Mr McCormack said it may be necessary for some Australians to stay where they are overseas.
“Given the unprecedented scale of the global interruption to travel, the options outlined will not return all Australians travellers home,” he said.
At least one Sydney family is trapped on a ship off the coast of South America, with many other Aussies dotted across the globe desperate to come home but unable to book flights.
Earlier on Wednesday, opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong said the government should facilitate assisted departures.
“The issue we have here is Australians overseas were told get home if you want to come home because commercial options will dry up,” she told the ABC.
“Unfortunately many of them sought to follow that advice but because commercial options dried up so quickly, they are stranded.
“We really need the government to come forward with a clear plan to deal with those Australians who are stranded elsewhere.”
Australian travellers stuck overseas have been promised diplomats will provide regular advice and support.
“This will include information on local restrictions, food and necessities, and other support,” Mr McCormack said.
Meanwhile, Australians will be banned from travelling overseas under a further crackdown on trips as the government tries to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Exceptions will be made for aid workers, some other government and commercial workers, and people seeking to travel abroad on compassionate grounds.