Virgin Australia has suspended all international flights between March 30 and June 14. Photo: Attila Csaszar

PM tightens overseas travel ban

Australia has upgraded its international travel advice to the highest level, with all citizens being told not to travel overseas because of coronavirus.

It comes as the federal government announced a $715 million aid for the airline sector, with Virgin Australia the latest airline to suspend international travel for two and a half months.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said this was the first time travel advice has been escalated to "do not travel" abroad.

"Do not go overseas. That is very clear, that instruction," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra today.

"For those who are thinking of going overseas in the school holidays, don't. Don't go overseas."

Mr Morrison said the biggest risk of spreading the disease had been from Australians returning from overseas.

"It is very important that Australians do not travel abroad at this time," he said.

Mr Morrison said the ban on travel was indefinite, noting other countries had similar restrictions on arrivals.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has made the decision amid a higher risk of contracting coronavirus overseas.

Healthcare systems overseas may come under strain and not be able to look after foreigners, the department says.

It says overseas travel has become more complex with many countries introducing fast-changing entry or movement restriction.

"We now advise all Australians: do not travel overseas at this time. This is our highest advice level (level four of four)," the department's advice says.

"If you are already overseas and wish to return to Australia, we recommend you do so as soon as possible by commercial means."

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued detailed advice on its website.

"You should contact the (travel) business directly to request a refund or other remedy such as a credit note or voucher," the ACCC says.

"The ACCC encourages all businesses to treat consumers fairly in these exceptional circumstances."

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan said citizens should return home from overseas as soon as possible.

He said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in WA has increased by four, bringing the state's total to 35.

"If people do (go overseas), they are taking a risk and the chances are they won't get home, and they certainly won't get travel insurance,” Mr McGowan said.

He said if the prime minister’s latest travel advice didn’t work, the federal government would need to close down international tourism completely.

He also insisted Western Australians reconsider non-essential interstate travel.

Australian airlines have been rocked by the coronavirus, with massive cuts to services as economic shock ripples through the industry.

The federal government will hand down a $715 million aid to help the sector through the pandemic.

A range of government charges will be refunded and waived to help airlines under immense pressure as domestic and global travel plummets.

The government will forgo fuel exercise, air service charges and regional security fees.

The move is expected to create an upfront benefit of $159 million, with the government refunding charges paid since February 1.

It comes as Virgin Australia suspended all international flights between March 30 and June 14, and cut its domestic capacity by 50 per cent.

Virgin will operate a reduced international schedule between now and March 29 to enable Australians to return home and visitors to leave the country.

The company’s announcement is the equivalent to grounding 53 aircraft.

Virgin Australia managing director Paul Scurrah said the airline had entered an unprecedented time in the global aviation history.

“We have responded by making tough decisions which include reducing our domestic capacity and phasing in the temporary suspension of international flying for a period of two and a half months,” he said.

“The changes announced today will affect our people and we are having constructive discussions with team members and relevant unions.

“Wherever possible, we will aim to avoid redundancies by fast-tracking measures such as the use of accrued leave, leave without pay and redeployment.”

The airline said it had also set up a dedicated customer care hub to manage the surge of customer queries and travel changes.

Virgin previously announced a temporary 15 per cent reduction in chairman and director fees and the removal of management bonuses, amongst other measures.

Yesterday, Qantas announced it would slash its international capacity by 90 per cent and domestic flights by 60 per cent.

Regional carrier Rex had urged government action, warning it could go under unless given help during the tumultuous period.

Air New Zealand also announced yesterday it would cut 13 routes to Australia and would run just 20 per cent of regular trans-Tasman capacity.

It will take off from Wellington and Christchurch for Australia just twice a week, to Sydney.

The airline did not rule out further cuts.

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