International travel bans will remain in place until at least March 17 as the federal government sets out to extend its biosecurity emergency period by another three months.
The move followed advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) that COVID-19 was an ongoing threat and still posed significant public health risk despite the emergence of the Pfizer vaccine.
Health Minister Greg Hunt said the coronavirus situation was still escalating in many other countries.
“The disease is spreading as quickly as ever,” he said.
“The international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment and Australia won‘t be fully safe until the international community is safe.”
The biosecurity emergency period was set to end on December 17, but the three month extension meant limits would remain on outbound international travel and on international cruise ship arrivals.
Australians can only leave the country with specific exemptions, with Mr Hunt revealing 95,325 exemptions had been granted since the emergency period was first put in place on March 18.
The advice to extend the declaration was accepted by the National Security Committee and will be put to the Governor-General for final approval on Thursday.
Acting Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said it was a difficult, but necessary decision.
“We weighed up all of the issues, as the Minister has pointed out, but particularly the ongoing situation internationally and the sort of risks that could come to Australia if we relaxed at this point,” he said.
It comes as the first international flights in nearly six months have touched down in Melbourne this week as part of the state government’s plan to get Aussies stranded overseas home before Christmas.
About 253 passengers among eight international flights arrived on Monday, with health authorities estimating an average of about 160 a day to arrive during the rest of the week.
All of the passengers are taken to the state’s revamped quarantine hotels where they will be tested for COVID-19 and remain for about two weeks.