- Associated Press - Thursday, March 12, 2020

PERTH, Australia (AP) - Australia on Thursday put forward a $17.6 billion (US $11.4 billion) stimulus package meant to stave off a recession due to the impact of the virus outbreak on its economy.

The package includes cash payments for small businesses and welfare recipients to counter the impact of the disease, which has infected more than 126,000 people worldwide.

Australia has recorded 127 cases of the virus and three deaths. The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic causing, jolting markets worldwide and raising the sense of urgency surrounding efforts to contain it.

The Australian government will spend 11 billion Australian dollars($7.1 billion) before June 30, the end of the financial year, with the remainder to be spent before July 2021.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the package would provide an immediate stimulus to Australia’s economy. Up to 6.5 million people - nearly a quarter of the country’s population - on government benefits, including pensioners, the unemployed and family tax benefits, will receive one-off payments of 750 Australian dollars each ($485).

“The biggest beneficiaries of that will be pensioners,” Morrison said. “They comprise around half of those who will receive those payments.”

Morrison said small and medium businesses will receive cash payments of between 2,000 Australian dollars ($1,294) and 25,000 Australian dollars ($16,184) to help pay wages or hire extra staff.

“This plan is about keeping Australians in jobs,” he said. “This plan is about keeping a business in business and this plan is about ensuring the Australian economy bounces back stronger on the other side of this and, with that, the budget bounces back with it.”

The stimulus package also includes a 1 billion Australian dollar ($650 million) fund to help its embattled tourism sector, which has been sluggish since the wildfires disaster reared late last year.

They were the first stimulus measures in Australia since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago. Morrison’s conservative government has been trying to ward off the growing risk of the country’s first recession in nearly three decades.

Earlier this month, Australia’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a record low of 0.5% in response to the outbreak.

The stimulus measures were announced following a 2.4 billion Australian dollar ($1.6 billion) health package, which includes up to 100 coronavirus fever clinics to be set up in areas of need across Australia.

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