Australia pledges US$80bln wages subsidy to protect jobs from coronavirus

SYDNEY, 30th March, 2020 (WAM) -- Australia will spend AU$130 billion (US$79.85 billion) to subsidise the wages of an estimated six million people, marking a third tranche of stimulus designed to limit the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the country's economy, Reuters has reported.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the six months of funding was necessary to ensure businesses were able to retain staff and were able to bounce back when the crisis had passed.

"We must have a running economy to get through this," Morrison said in a televised news conference. "This is an incentive to keep people on, doing actual work ... they can keep them on the books, on the payrolls."

The "job keeper" allowance brings the country's Coronavirus-related stimulus so far to AU$320 billion, or about 15 percent of Australia's gross domestic product, as it also ramps up social distancing measures in a bid to capitalise on a slowdown in the growth rate of new infections nationally.

The "job keeper" allowance announced on Monday will provide eligible companies with AU$1,500 every fortnight for six months for each employee. Any company that lost 30 percent of its revenue can apply for the funds.

Thousands of Australians who have already lost their jobs will be eligible for the payments through their former employer.

Australia has one of the lowest numbers of Coronavirus infections globally and reported that the rate of new cases has halved in the past week. Around 4,200 people have tested positive nationally, and the death toll stands at 18.

But officials have warned against complacency, and introduced new measures including restrictions to public gatherings to just two people and shutting down outside gyms and parks.

Several states are bringing in penalties from midnight including fines of up to AU$1,600 and the potential of a six month jail term for anybody found breaching the new rules.

"This is not a time to take the foot off the brake," Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

WAM/Rola Alghoul/Nour Salman