Australian PM says stimulus package will be announced soon

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday the government will soon announce measures to stimulate an economy hammered by the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, as the local share market came in for another turbulent session.

FILE PHOTO: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks during a joint press conference held with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern at Admiralty House in Sydney, Australia, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

After global equities sold off heavily overnight following reports of a lockdown covering all of Italy, the Australian share market fell up to 4% in early trading before rebounding into positive territory by mid-session.

“Our objective is this - keep people in jobs, keep businesses in business, and ensure we bounce back stronger on the other side,” Morrison said at the Australian Financial Review conference in Sydney.

“We must favour measures that will lift productivity to enable the Australian economy to sustain an even stronger growth trajectory than we were on prior to the crisis.”

The prime minister said the impacts from the coronavirus outbreak were “potentially greater” than the global financial crisis of 2008, and the government would soon announce a stimulus package. He did not give details.

A report in the Australian newspaper on Monday said the government was planning measures worth about A$10 billion ($6.6 billion), abandoning plans for a budget surplus in the current fiscal year.

National Australia Bank’s index of business conditions for February showed measures of Australian business and consumer sentiment taking a hit from coronavirus, raising the risk of the country’s first recession in three decades.

The total number of cases in Australia rose overnight to 100 from 80 on Tuesday, with the most populous state of New South Wales (NSW) reporting an additional seven cases, taking its tally to 54.

Australia’s Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a televised briefing that the government has requested health experts to review the status of travel advisories for Italy, after it expanded a lockdown to cover the entire country to contain the spread of the virus.

Australia last week had put tougher screening processes for travelers from Italy.

The minister also said the chances of coronavirus survivors getting reinfected were “highly unlikely”.

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said plans to lower the 14-day quarantine period were “constantly under review”.

“As the data emerges around the incubation period, it does seem to be more in the five to seven-day period, and the 14 days does have a margin for error,” Murphy said.

“But no recommendation to change has been made at the moment.”

A school in Melbourne was closed on Tuesday after a teacher tested positive for the virus, a spokesman for Victoria state’s department of health said, the state’s first case of local transmission.

Meanwhile, Australian Rules football club Fremantle Dockers said one of their players was isolated and tested for the coronavirus after showing “flu-like” symptoms following contact with a friend who had been in China.

The coronavirus has killed nearly 4,000 people across the globe, with three deaths in Australia.

Reporting by Renju Jose, Editing by Richard Pullin and Sam Holmes