Stranded Aussies prioritised over students

Matt Coughlan
·3-min read

Australia will focus on bringing a growing list of people stranded overseas home before considering allowing international students into the country again.

More than 35,600 citizens and permanent residents want to return, with the number continuing to rise as coronavirus rips through through large parts of the world.

"It is a cup that keeps filling up every time we get someone home," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Morrison said he was unable to give state premiers and territory chief ministers a timeline for international students' return at Friday's national cabinet meeting.

"It's Australians coming home first," he said.

Universities ailing from massive revenue hits after losing international students will not be able to welcome the valuable cohort back until at least next year.

Asked if universities would be given further support, Mr Morrison said the budget guaranteed funding would be maintained and pointed to $1 billion for research.

Hotel quarantine is set to continue for the foreseeable future with health authorities unable to find safe alternatives on a major scale.

All states and territories reaffirmed a plan to open borders in time for Christmas, with the exception of Western Australian, which looks set to maintain its hardline stance.

South Australia will open its border to Victoria on December 1.

National cabinet also considered Chief Scientist Alan Finkel's national review of contact tracing systems.

Professor Finkel's review recommends fully digital data collection, better use of apps to enter venues and improved airline passenger information collection.

The document will be sent to US president-elect Joe Biden, who is looking to Australia as he prepares to make combating the pandemic his top priority when he takes office next year.

More than 100,000 new cases have been recorded daily in America for a week, with the death toll soaring past 240,000 and hospitalisation rates skyrocketing.

That's in stark contrast to Australia where Victoria marked a 14-day streak without new infections, while NSW went six days straight without a locally acquired case.

State and territory leaders endorsed the federal government's vaccine policy amid growing global optimism in the hunt for a powerful weapon against the deadly disease.

Priority will be given to health, aged care and disability support workers along with elderly and Indigenous people.

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said all safety precautions would be taken alongside streamlined vaccine approvals.

"There are no short cuts to this. It is going fast. That's true. But all of the processes for regulation will be there," he said.

A Queensland-made coronavirus vaccine could be available to the public in the third quarter of 2021.

Early data from phase one clinical trials shows the CSL and University of Queensland vaccine is safe, well tolerated and induces a strong immune response.

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer reported this week its candidate had a 90 per cent effectiveness rate in late-stage clinical trials.

Australia is on track to begin vaccinations in March, with the government hoping deals with four candidates will pay dividends.