A plan for 350 international students to fly to Canberra to continue their studies at the end of July has been postponed due to the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in Australia.
Australian National University and the University of Canberra had been working with the ACT and federal governments to implement pilot program where 350 students could return to the capital and continue their studies in semester two after a two week quarantine period.
The University of Canberra and the Australian National University announced in a statement that plan had been put on hold.
"Given the recent COVID developments, the universities have decided to postpone the well-advanced pilot plan to return 350 continuing students to Canberra campuses in late July until there is a clearer picture around the COVID trajectory," the statement said.
The universities are still hopeful the pilot plan will be rolled out at a later date. As recently as Wednesday, all parties involved said they were still hopeful the plan would go ahead.
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth said medical authorities have been discussing the hotel quarantine policy and the burden that the return of over 60,000 people has placed on the public health system.
The national cabinet is set to discuss slowing the number of overseas arrivals on Friday.
No date has been set to attempt to return overseas students to the ACT, but the universities are not abandoning the pilot altogether.
"Given the ever-evolving circumstance of this global pandemic, we think it best to press pause on our plans to return a small number of our valued continuing international students who contribute so much to the vibrancy of our city and our campus," University of Canberra Vice Chancellor Paddy Nixon said.
Australian National University Vice Chancellor Brian Schmidt echoed Professor Nixon, saying that health and safety of students was most important.
"We always said we would only undertake this program when it was safe for both our students, our campuses and the wider community," Professor Schmidt said.
"This is not an end to the program - just a delay - and we remain committed to ensuring our students can continue their studies back in Australia when the time is right."
Chief Minister Andrew Barr thanked the universities for making the "sensible decision" to postpone the pilot program.
"Our first priority is protecting Canberrans and ensuring our health system has the capacity to cope with any spikes in cases and to appropriately monitor people who are undertaking mandatory quarantine periods.
"International students are incredibly important to Canberra, and we look forward to working with the universities to further progress the pilot and bring students back to Canberra over the coming months when it is safe to do so."