Aussies need to be able to come home: CMO

·3-min read

The chief medical officer has reiterated "vulnerable" Australians cannot be left to languish overseas as the Victorian premier again calls for a logical discussion on the future of hotel quarantine.

The quarantine program is under fresh scrutiny after the latest in a series of COVID-19 leaks caused a five-day shutdown of Victoria.

One new local case was recorded in Victoria on Saturday, taking the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport cluster to 14, as well as five new cases on Friday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Friday there needed to be a "cold, hard discussion" about reducing the number of travellers returning to Australia from overseas, and reiterated those calls on Saturday.

Victoria entered a third lockdown on Saturday which will run for five days, aiming the curb the spread of the UK variant of the virus.

"I have never advocated, nor will I, to handball this to someone else. It's not the 2020 virus, it just isn't," Mr Andrews told reporters on Saturday.

"The velocity of this thing is very very challenging and we should have a genuine discussion about how many people are coming back, the circumstances in which they come back, and can we make this safer.

"I'd think the Commonwealth would want to be a partner in that."

Mr Andrews said a permanent reduction in the number of overseas arrivals would also leave more workers available for Australia's vaccine rollout.

But chief medical officer Paul Kelly said he and his state-based counterparts were constantly discussing hotel quarantine protocols and safeguards.

He added the federal government could not ignore Australians stuck overseas for months on end, many of whom already unable to secure flights home.

"The states and territories themselves at a National Cabinet meeting very early on said it should be the states and territories - that is where the public health system is run, (they) have the various staff that are needed for this type of exercise," Prof Kelly told reporters on Saturday.

"(As to) whether we should be taking fewer people home, I would say we do have vulnerable Australians overseas, the Australian government does has a responsibility to Australians overseas and for those who are vulnerable and really desperate to come home, we need to factor that in."

Mr Andrews previously asked whether there should be a smaller program of hotel quarantine that was "based on compassionate grounds" and said the more infectious UK variant meant the "game (had) changed".

On Friday evening, Victoria announced a pause on international passenger flights from Saturday, excluding those already in transit. The Victorian weekly cap had been set to lift from 1210 to 1310 overseas arrivals.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week defended Australia's state-led hotel quarantine program, arguing that COVID-19 leaks - as have recently occurred in Sydney, Perth, Brisbane and Adelaide - were inevitable.

Prof Kelly said quarantine systems were complex but mostly effective.

"We have had a very small number of breaches (nationally) but of course we can always learn from what happens," he said.

"That continuous quality improvement approach is what we are taking."

The Melbourne outbreak can be traced back to a family of three who quarantined at the Holiday Inn, one of whom used a nebuliser device which is believed to have contributed to virus transmission in the hotel.

Elsewhere, NSW and Queensland on Saturday both reported no new local cases in their respective 24-hour reporting windows. Western Australia and South Australia also recorded no new local virus cases.

Victorian visitors to NSW from Saturday will be obliged to follow their home state's "stay at home" orders. This does not apply to residents of NSW border communities unless they have visited Greater Melbourne.

NSW has strongly advised its residents to avoid non-essential travel to Victoria.

Tasmania, Northern Territory, Queensland, WA and SA have closed their borders to Victorian travellers.