Australia adds $38 billion to tighten lockdown steps

FILE PHOTO: The mostly deserted steps of the Sydney Opera House, where scheduled public performances have been cancelled due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), are seen on a quiet morning in Sydney, Australia, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Australia’s government will spend additional A$66.4 billion ($38.50 billion) as part of a second stimulus package to shelter the economy from the financial impact of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday, as states moved to impose major lockdowns.

The new stimulus will go to individuals in need and small and medium-sized businesses. Those businesses produce about a third of the country’s annual economic output and employ more than 40% of the workforce, according to government statistics.

The package, which dwarfs the A$17.6 billion ($10.20 billion) in initial measures announced last week, came with a pledge by the government to enforce social distancing rules after many Australians appeared to disregard health warnings and flocked to pubs and beaches amid a warm autumn spell.

After an initial relatively slow spread, the number of coronavirus infections in Australia has been rising quickly in recent days, climbing to 1,098 confirmed cases as of Sunday morning with seven recorded deaths linked to COVID-19.

Jobseekers will get extra money and people in financial stress will also be able to access up to A$10,000 tax-free of their pension funds for this and next year, while some not-for-profits and small businesses will have access to cash grants to keep staff employed.

Together with more than A$100 billion announced earlier in emergency banking measures to prevent a credit freeze and the initial stimulus package, Australia has now announced financial measures equalling about 10% of the country’s annual gross domestic product, the government said.

One of Australia’s largest employers, Qantas Airways, last week said it would put 20,000 employees on leave as the virus has devastated the airline industry with scores of countries closing their borders.

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