Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reassured the Australian public in a national address late Thursday, saying that the government is well prepared to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
“I want to assure you and your family tonight that while Australia cannot and is not immune from this virus, we are well-prepared and we are well-equipped to deal with it and we do have a clear plan to see Australia through,” Morrison said in a televised address at 7 p.m. AEDT—the first prime minister to do so since Julia Gillard laid out her government’s climate plan in 2011.
The prime minister acknowledged that the new coronavirus is highly transmissible and that the risks are more severe for people who are more vulnerable, especially the elderly. He also acknowledged that there are “very real and significant economic impacts” from the viral outbreak.
“We have been taking the coronavirus very seriously,” he said.
Morrison outlined three goals of the Australian government, which are:
- To protect Australians’ health
- To secure Australians’ jobs and livelihoods
- Set the country up to bounce back stronger when the crisis is over
Morrison recounted the actions his government has taken so far to prepare for the virus’s impacts, including the recently-announced A$2.4 billion national health response plan and the A$17.6 billion economic stimulus plan.
The A$2.4 billion health response plan will “set up more than 100 pop-up clinics and provide extra support for aged-care facilities, increase funding for public hospitals and boost our medical stockpile, for essential medicines and masks,” Morrison said.
Morrison also noted that Australia had set up travel bans from the most-affected countries, and increased screening at the nation’s borders. The government also evacuated Australians from virus hotspots and set up quarantine facilities.
“We’re subsidizing half the wages of 117,000 apprentices in small businesses,” Morrison said of the economic stimulus plan. “We’re providing one-off $750 payments to more than 6 million Australians to spend in our economy now. Almost 2.5 million pensioners will receive this support.”
“There’s direct cash support of up to $25,000 for small and medium-sized businesses that employ over 7 million Australians to boost their cash flow. And we’re backing businesses to keep investing by increasing tax incentives to help them buy new equipment now.”
The prime minister also said that the government has prepared an A$1 billion fund to support targetted local recovery plans “for the most affected regions and industries like tourism and upper-north Queensland,” once the coronavirus has run its course.
“As our economy bounces back which it will so will our budget because we have not loaded up spending off into the future,” Morrison asserted. “We can take this action now because we have worked hard to bring the budget back into balance, to maintain our triple-A credit rating and worked with the state governments to provide a world-class health system.”
He acknowledged that “many Australians are anxious about this” and that the country still “have a long way to go,” but reiterated that the government is acting on its clear plan.
“The months ahead will present many challenges but we will respond to them,” Morrison said. “We’ll get through this Australia, we all have a role to play … I know we’ll all do our bit.”
The new coronavirus, also known as SARS-CoV-2, causes the disease COVID-19. It has killed thousands worldwide, with experts estimating a mortality rate of between 0.1 and 1 percent.
The virus was reported to have emerged in Wuhan, a city in China’s Hubei Province in late 2019, and notable outbreaks have since been reported in Iran, Italy, and South Korea.
As of late Thursday, Australia has at least 128 cases of the virus and has seen three deaths, involving people aged 95, 82 and 78.