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Australia injects A$17.6b stimulus to curb Covid-19 impact


AUSTRALIA'S government said it would pump A$17.6 billion (S$15.7 billion) into the economy to try to stop the novel coronavirus outbreak triggering a recession, as it weighed an extension of travel restrictions following a formal pandemic declaration.

The country's first stimulus package since the 2008 global financial crisis, which helped Australia avert a recession then, illustrates the lengths the government will take to pare the economic impact of the outbreak.

Despite only affecting about 130 people in Australia so far, with three confirmed deaths, economists expect the outbreak, classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, to cause a recession in the second quarter.

The package will subsidise the wages of 120,000 apprentices, offer one-off cash payments for welfare recipients and give up to A$25,000 to small businesses, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at a news conference in Canberra on Thursday.

"This is a comprehensive, a well-thought-through, a well-targeted plan, which is designed to support the Australian economy and jobs and businesses through the difficult months ahead," Mr Morrison said.

More than six million welfare recipients, notably pensioners and unemployed citizens, will get a one-off cash payment of A$750 from March 31, he added.

Speaking with the Prime Minister, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said most of the package would be spent immediately, potentially boosting the economy by 1.5 percentage points in the second quarter.

Australia has not experienced a recession, defined as two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, since the early 1990s.

"The package won't super-charge the economy. Neither does it guarantee that the economy won't slip into recession. But it is a good first step," said Craig James, chief economist, Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

News of the stimulus came minutes before US president Donald Trump announced a 30-day ban on incoming travel from continental Europe, sending Australian stocks, which were trading down about 3 per cent, tumbling to close down 7.4 per cent.

The effects of the stimulus package remain unclear while the pandemic widens. REUTERS