Arrivals from India will be reduced by a third into Australia and travellers will be forced to take COVID-19 tests before boarding as the country grapples with an escalating COVID-19 outbreak.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed the measure after national cabinet meeting on Thursday, where state and territory leaders discussed how to manage arrivals from high-risk countries.
Australians will also be barred from travelling to high-risk countries and will only be granted exemptions in “very urgent circumstances”, Mr Morrison said.
He confirmed the move would “sadly” impact people travelling for family events like weddings and funerals, but said a growing rate of transmission in hotel quarantine had forced the government’s hand.
“These are difficult decisions we’ve had to make, but the increasing risk we’ve seen from some countries we believe necessitates managing that risk in the best way possible,” he said.
Mr Morrison did not confirm when the arrangements would take effect, but said he expected further confirmation within 24 hours.
“I wouldn’t be suggesting anyone from high risk country be rushing back to Australia, and we will be looking to put this in place very soon,” he said.
India recorded over 300,000 COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the worst single-day increase in any country since the pandemic began.
Mr Morrison insisted the government was working to bring Australians home, but the high caseload in India was “not something we could ignore”.
He denied the move was evidence the government lacked confidence in its quarantine system.
“It doesn’t reflect that at all. It reflects that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic that is raging,” he said.
“Australia has been successful throughout this pandemic, working together with the states and territories, to have very effective border arrangements.”
Anyone who had been in a high-risk country within the past 14 days will also have to take a COVID test within 72 hours of leaving their last port of call on the way to Australia.
Mr Morrison said he expected countries other than India to soon be listed as high-risk, pointing to the UK’s ‘Red List’ of travel bans as a template Australia could pursue.
WA Premier Mark McGowan on Wednesday called for a total suspension of arrivals from India over the outbreak, but Mr Morrison claimed he was “fully supportive” of the announcement.