SYDNEY - Several Australian states eased social distancing restrictions further on Monday, allowing restaurants to host more people and public attractions to reopen, as Canberra moves to revive the country’s ailing economy.
Australia has recorded about 7,200 coronavirus cases and 103 deaths, and with new infections now largely under control, it has embarked on a three-step plan to remove the bulk of curbs by July.
In New South Wales, cafes and restaurants were allowed to cater for 50 seated patrons, while 20 guests will be allowed to attend a funeral. Both were previously limited to 10 people.
Public attractions, such as Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, art galleries, museums and libraries were also allowed to reopen.
In Victoria, which has taken the most cautious approach to reopening, restaurants and cafes could reopen on Monday. However, patrons are restricted to a maximum of 20 people.
Australia hopes removing restrictions will boost economic growth, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday said additional, targeted stimulus would be needed.
Australia’s government and central bank has pledged about A$250 billion in stimulus, though the bulk of this is expected to end by September.
Morrison said his government is considering a plan to offer homeowners one-off grants for renovations, while federal infrastructure projects will be bought forward.
“A big part of coming out of the COVID-19 crisis is our infrastructure spending,” Morrison told 2GB Radio.
Stalled Migration Affecting Economy
Australia’s three decades of uninterrupted prosperity are coming to an abrupt end as the global coronavirus pandemic crashes one of its most lucrative sources of income – immigration.
The country has been successful in managing the outbreak and reopening its A$2 trillion economy, thanks in part to an early closure of its borders.
But the policy has led to a halt in mass immigration - a key source of consumer demand, labour and growth - in an economy which is facing its first recession since the early 1990s.
Net immigration, including international students and those on skilled worker visas, is expected to fall 85% in the fiscal year to June 2021, curbing demand for everything from cars and property to education and wedding rings.
Gurmeet Tuli, who owns a jewellery store in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta, said his business is already hurting in a neighbourhood which is home to tens of thousands of migrants.
“My main clientele is young people who come here to study, they find work here and settle down, fall in love and want to get married,” Tuli said.
“I have not sold a single diamond ring in the past two months,” he added, noting business is down about 40% so far this year.
Reporting by Colin Packham, Swati Pandey and Sam Holmes