Australia ‘losing $2.5b a week’ in virus shutdown

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Australia’s economy is losing Aus$4 billion (US$2.5 billion) every week as its virus shutdown continues, while a million workers have already lost their jobs in the crisis, according to figures announced Tuesday.

The country has enjoyed success in curbing the spread of COVID-19, with new daily cases slowing to single digits or zero across most regions.

But Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the restrictions on movement and gatherings designed to stop the spread of the disease were dealing a heavy blow to the economy.

“For every extra week that the current restrictions remain in place, the Treasury estimates that close to $4 billion will be reduced in economic activity, from a combination of a reduced workforce participation, reduced productivity, and reduced consumption,” he said in a speech in Canberra.

It came as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported a 7.5 per cent drop in jobs — equivalent to nearly one million workers out of an active workforce of some 13 million — in the five weeks to 18 April.

A third of workers lost their jobs in the worst-affected hotel and hospitality industries, along with 27 per cent of people in the arts and recreation sectors.

The Treasury has previously estimated the unemployment rate will double to 10 percent by the middle of the year because of the coronavirus shutdowns, leaving about 1.4 million people out of work.

The ABS also reported that 31 per cent of households nationwide had seen their finances worsen.

Frydenberg said the figures showed Australia “must get people back into jobs, and we must get people back at work” but the country had only met 11 of the 15 health conditions for lifting restrictions — though work was ongoing to fast-track the remaining four.

Among those is a greater take-up of the government’s contact tracing app, COVIDSafe, which to date has been downloaded by almost five million smartphone users.

Australia has recorded more than 6,800 cases of COVID-19 and 96 deaths. Despite progress in some parts of the country, large clusters of cases have emerged at a Melbourne abattoir and Sydney care home.

Australia’s states and territories have begun gradually easing some of the restrictions imposed to curb the epidemic and prime minister Scott Morrison has said further steps could be announced later this week.

>>AFP