SYDNEY • Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria yesterday reported three deaths from the coronavirus and logged 374 daily cases of infections compared with 275 cases a day earlier.
A woman in her 100s, another in her 90s and a third in her 80s have died from the virus, Premier Daniel Andrews said in a media briefing in the state capital Melbourne.
The state so far has recorded just under 6,300 total confirmed cases of Covid-19, which is nearly half of the total infections in Australia.
Victoria’s government has enforced a six-week partial lockdown in Melbourne and asked residents to wear face masks when they step outside their homes or risk fines to contain a flare-up in infections.
Neighbouring South Australia state will further tighten its border to guard against renewed outbreaks of the coronavirus by introducing a maximum two-year jail term for people who breach the rules.
The state has closed its border to residents of Victoria. And travellers from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory have to self-quarantine for 14 days and submit for virus testing.
The surge in infections in the country has prompted Australia’s government to pump a further A$16.8 billion (S$16.3 billion) into its signature wage subsidy programme to prop up an economy that has been badly hit by a prolonged recession.
The programme, which now supports about 3.5 million workers, will be extended by six months until the end of March, albeit at a lower rate, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday.
The extension of the programme allays fears of a hard end to the current A$70 billion scheme which was scheduled to end on Sept 30, especially with unemployment already at a 22-year high.
But subsidies will be reduced under the new programme, which runs through to March 28 next year and is expected to cover about one million workers, as Prime Minister Morrison’s Conservative government seeks to wean the economy off fiscal support.
“It has to scale down and work ourselves off these supports because they’re not enduring, they cannot be permanent, they were never designed to be permanent,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra yesterday.
In the support programme launched in March, workers from affected businesses receive A$1,500 once every fortnight.
Under scaled-back subsidies, they will receive A$1,200 a fortnight, while those who work fewer than 20 hours a week will receive A$700 every two weeks.
From Jan 1, payments will fall to A$1,000 and A$650 a fortnight, respectively.
Unemployment benefits, which were increased in March by A$550 a fortnight until Sept 30, would be more than halved.
Australia’s central bank has welcomed the continuation of both wage and unemployment support, saying they play an important role “in reducing the costly scarring to the economy”.
It said late last month that the economy will need “considerable” support for some time, despite moves by states and territories to reopen their economies.