Hundreds of Australians have been exempted from a cap on international arrivals to fly home from Lebanon following a deadly explosion earlier this month.
The federal government has imposed a weekly limit of 4000 incoming passengers to ease the burden on hotel quarantine.
The move comes amid reports stranded Australians who paid thousands for flight tickets home are being bumped off flights as airlines prioritise first-class passengers.
Airlines are routinely abandoning economy and premium economy passengers in favour of higher-paying passengers in an effort to remain profitable.
There are more than 19,000 Australians trying to return from overseas.
“If we can lift that cap, if we think it is safe to do so, then we will,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told 2SM radio on Friday.
“In the meantime, we will just help people where they are.”
Mr Morrison said exceptions would be made in emergency situations, like the horrific blast in Beirut.
There are usually about 5000 Australians in Lebanon at any one time.
“We’ve got over 200 people out of there and had cap exemptions to be able to achieve that in a very short space of time,” Mr Morrison said.
The Prime Minister has played down reports of a plan to evacuate more Australians stranded overseas and place them in outback quarantine centres.
Nine newspapers report several federal government departments are working on a plan to bring back Australians who need to fly home but have been blocked by caps on international arrivals.
Mr Morrison denied there was a specific plan to quarantine people in regional areas to take pressure off capital cities, but pointed out similar strategies had already been used throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
People evacuated from Wuhan in China were quarantined on Christmas Island, while others rescued from cruise ships were sent to the Northern Territory for two weeks.
“In other cases we have brought chartered flights back into Australia and they have gone through the normal hotel quarantine,” Mr Morrison told Nine’s Today Show.
“But we don’t want to put too much stress on that hotel quarantine. We know what happens when quarantine breaks and there isn’t the tracing program to back that up.
“We have seen that in the terrible incidents that occurred in Melbourne. And the hardship that brings. You’ve got to get the balance right.”