National cabinet has ruled out lifting international traveller caps which were slashed amid concerns about the highly-infectious UK strain.
But Scott Morrison has revealed the government is seeking “flexible arrangements” with states and territories that could see more Aussies return home soon.
The meeting follows Emirates announcing it would resume flights to Australia’s east coast next week after the temporary suspension resulted in more flight cancellations.
From Friday, passengers returning to Australia must test negative for COVID-19 and wear a mask on their flights.
Aviation protocols and international passenger caps – which were halved in three states due to concerns about mutant coronavirus strains – were among several items on the agenda for leaders.
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The prime minister said leaders reviewed the cap arrangements and had not made any changes.
However, they were considering “flexible arrangements” with jurisdictions between now and February 15.
“There is the opportunity for me to engage with individual states and territories, on a bilateral crisis, if we believe we can create additional capacity,” Mr Morrison said.
“But that is not an indication that that will occur.”
Mr Morrison said the government’s first priority was the health and safety of people within Australia, followed by getting Australians home as soon as possible.
He said Australia had put on additional 20 repatriation flights and was looking at providing additional capacity to get more people home.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was set to propose that mining camps, such as one in Gladstone, could be used to quarantine returning travellers.
The move aims to prevent the virus, from people who test positive in medi-hotels, spreading in the metropolitan area.
But Mr Morrison said he still had not yet seen the proposal.
“We still are seeing 1 per cent of all international arrivals coming into Australia being diagnosed with COVID-19, which reinforces the importance of our quarantine arrangement,” he said.
“I anticipate getting more detail on the proposals today.”
Earlier on Friday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said Ms Palaszczuk needed to explain why it was necessary given hotel quarantine worked effectively in other states.
“People in Gladstone are really scratching their heads as to why they need to have a quarantine facility in their backyard,” Mr Dutton told Today.
“The other point to make here is that a lot of people fly in and out of Gladstone because they’re associated with the mining industry.
“We don’t want them in a position where they’re exposed and then taking it back to other parts of the country.”
Leaders also received an update on coronavirus vaccine implementation planning.
The expert medical panel told the meeting it did not recommend that the jab be mandatory for aged care workers.
But Professor Michael Kidd said experts were actively encouraging the residents of aged care, people working in aged care and people coming into the facility.
He said new mutant strains originating in the UK, South Africa and Brazil were concerning, and they were monitoring for increased transmissibility.
Mr Morrison remained tight-lipped about when the Pfizer vaccine would be approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“We’re not rushing this nor are we delaying it,” he said. “We’re getting it right.”
Other issues on the agenda include provisions for seasonal workers to enter Australia to help the horticulture industry with workforce shortages.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud this week lashed the Victorian government for establishing a quarantine system for Australian Open tennis players but not seasonal workers.
But no changes were made.