Australia mulls second stimulus package to tackle coronavirus, sources say

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia is considering a second round of economic stimulus, three sources familiar with the deliberations told Reuters, as Canberra accelerated efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus that has now killed five people in the country.

Shoppers line up outside a Costco Wholesale store, following reports of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in the country, in Epping, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia March 14, 2020 in this still image taken from social media video. Richard Sharman via REUTERS

Australia has recorded nearly 300 cases of coronavirus and authorities fear a rapid rise in the flu-like respiratory disease.

The spread of the virus has roiled global markets despite pledges of stimulus packages, including Australia’s plan to inject A$17.6 billion ($11.4 billion) into its economy.

As Australian markets slumped further on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with senior Cabinet officials to discuss a potential “scaling-up” of its stimulus package, three sources told Reuters.

Earlier, Australia’s central bank said it was ready to purchase local government bonds to support the smooth functioning of the market and will announce further policy measures later this week.

The Reserve Bank of Australia also pumped extra liquidity into the banking system, part of a package of measures aimed at ensuring business and households have access to credit as travel and industry are disrupted.

Australia’s corporate regulator asked some participants in the equity market to limit the number of trades they execute each day by up to 25% after a huge spike in volumes last week.

The moves, however, did little to calm market jitters, with the local share market falling as much as 7% in morning trading.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

As Australian financial policymakers and regulators moved to underpin its markets, Australia’s capital and the country’s second most populous state declared states of emergency to slow the spread of the outbreak.

After a 77-year-old woman and a 90-year-old woman died in New South Wales, Victoria state and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – home to the capital city of Canberra – both declared a state of emergency that will give health officials sweeping powers.

The proclamations allows the Victoria state and ACT’s chief health officers to issue fresh quarantine orders to cover entire suburbs, businesses or professions if deemed necessary.

“These powers have never been used before,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria. “This, I hope provides a clear sense about the unprecedented nature of this public health emergency, this really significant challenge.”

The Victoria state of emergency will run for four weeks, while the ACT declaration will be in force for at least a week.

Western Australia state declared a state of emergency on Sunday.

Nationally, Australia is tightening its borders, with Morrison on Sunday ordering everyone arriving from overseas to self-isolate for 14 days.

Australia has also banned non-essential social gatherings of more than 500 people, though this not apply for public transport, work or schools.

Still, many offices are asking employees to work from home and several leading universities on Monday shuttered for at least a week.

Australia’s parliament, which is scheduled to sit next week has also restricted access to visitors, while Morrison said lawmakers will be asked to limit the number of staff members that come to Canberra next week.

Hundreds of Australians have begun stockpiling goods, from staples to sanitizers, clearing supermarket shelves.

The country’s biggest grocer, Woolworths Group, said on Monday it would open exclusively for an hour in the morning from Tuesday until at least Friday for elderly Australians and people with disabilities.

Reporting by Colin Packham in Sydney, additional reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney

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