The federal government is working to rescue more than 3000 Australians stuck aboard cruise ships across the globe as countries shut their borders to slow the coronavirus outbreak.
The stranded Australians are scattered across more than 30 vessels in waters off South America, Europe, the United States and further afield.
“We want to make sure that those Australians are able to return. We are working directly with them,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told the Nine Network.
Cruise ships have proven a fertile breeding ground for the deadly disease, with several states on Thursday banning liners from entering port.
There are hundreds of thousands of Australians overseas at any one time.
Thousands of people are now desperately trying to get home but are finding it extremely difficult, with countries like Nepal and South Africa shutting down flights altogether.
There are additional pressures in countries like Peru where public gatherings, free movement and business operations have been heavily constrained.
The Australian government is working with airlines to try to facilitate limited assisted departures where commercial flights are unavailable.
“We are very focused in the most difficult areas of working with partners who can assist us in returning Australians,” Senator Payne said.
“They are discussions we are having with international airlines and with travel businesses, in Peru in particular.”
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has had more than 18,500 requests for assistance from Australians stranded overseas since March 13.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese says any evacuations must also be done in a way that does not put other Australians at risk.
Mr Albanese is open to quarantining rescued cruise ship passengers in hotel rooms to halt the spread of the disease.
“Nothing should be off-limits,” he said.
Cruise ship passengers will be barred from NSW until tougher protocols are established to limit the spread of COVID-19.
NSW health authorities have been chastised for the Ruby Princess cruise ship fiasco in which coronavirus-infected passengers were last week allowed to disembark in Sydney.
Meanwhile, WA Premier Mark McGowan is trying to force the departure of a cruise ship anchored off Perth with no Australians on board.
The state is also preparing Rottnest Island to take 800 Australians aboard another cruise ship, which is due to arrive in Fremantle on Friday, into quarantine for 14 days.
Australians have now been banned from travelling overseas as authorities try to contain the coronavirus.