NEWS
18/03/2020 8:36 AM AEDT | Updated 18/03/2020 8:50 AM AEDT

Australians Told To Return Home From Overseas Before It’s Too Late

The government has issued a grim warning for Aussies overseas.

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Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

All Australians overseas who want to return home should do so immediately - the Department of Foreign Affairs has warned. 

“As more countries close their borders or introduce travel restrictions, overseas travel is becoming more complex and difficult,” DFAT said of the disruption caused by the coronavirus.

“You may not be able to return to Australia when you had planned to.”

Australia has already urged citizens to refrain from going abroad. The updated advice was issued after Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with state and territory leaders to discuss strengthening restrictions on public gatherings.

At least 450 people in Australia have tested positive while five people have died after contracting COVID-19, one in WA, three in NSW and one in Queensland.

The virus has killed more than 7,000 people worldwide and continues to spread at a rapid pace.

The government has banned gatherings of more than 500 people, but several state leaders are pushing for the ban to extend to any event with more than 100 people.

Morrison’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Australia has from Monday required anyone arriving from overseas would be required to self-isolate for 14 days or face fines. It has stopped short of taking tougher measures such as closing schools or imposing curfews.

The measures are expected to restrict tourism yet further. The Sydney Opera House has closed its doors until the end of the month. Australian Fashion Week, music festival Splendour in the Grass, all Cricket Australia matches and the World Surf League were all cancelled as the number of cases of coronavirus topped 400.

Despite Australia lagging behind other countries in the number of coronavirus cases, officials are growing increasingly concerned about exponential growth in infections. New South Wales on Tuesday recorded its highest one-day rise in infections so far.

Tourism accounts for 3% of Australian’s economy. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said the government planned to do “everything we possibly can” to help tourism businesses, and left open the possibility of a bailout for Qantas and rival Virgin Australia Holdings.

Qantas said on Tuesday it was cutting international capacity by around 90% until at least the end of May. Virgin announced deep capacity cuts last week.

The Australian Financial Review said Australia will offer refunds and waive fuel excise duties - measures worth $715 million to help the industry.

“We will recover,” Birmingham said. “We will come out of the coronavirus and we have to make sure that we have our tour operators, our tour attractions, all of our critical tourism infrastructure and businesses able to step up and be part of that recovery as quickly as possible so that we get people back into jobs and we get funds flowing back through our economy.”

 Colin Packham of Reuters contributed to this report.