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Australian govt. weighs up funding options to help state in lockdown

Australia’s Federal Government is considering how best to give financial support to the state of Victoria which is in the middle of a lockdown due to a new Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The state has been in lockdown since May 28.

While most restrictions would be lifted for its regional areas on Friday, its commercial powerhouse, Melbourne, would essentially remain closed for business until at least June 10.

The capital city has been at the centre of the nation’s biggest COVID-19 cluster this year, with 63 locally acquired cases of the highly contagious Kappa strain of the virus as of Thursday.

The lockdown was causing deep economic pain, especially to small businesses and casual employees who were suddenly without work.

Last year during the pandemic, the Federal Government introduced a welfare scheme, JobKeeper, which provided funds to help small businesses remain open and ensure workers remain on their payroll that scheme ended in March.

At the start of this lockdown, it was originally intended to only go for seven days.

The Victorian government announced a 250 million Australian dollar (about 193.80 million dollar) scheme to help fund 90,000 small businesses hard hit by the restrictions.

The issue of who should supply funds has become a political dispute with the state’s Treasurer Tim Pallas saying at the start of the lockdown that it was a disgrace that the Federal Government had not provided more assistance.

The federal treasurer Josh Freedenberg responded by saying more than 45 billion Australian dollars (about 34.87 billion U.S. dollars) had already flowed to Victorian families and businesses during COVID.

With more direct federal economic support per capita going to Victoria than to any other state.

Then, when announcing a seven-day extension of the lockdown on Wednesday, Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino said the state government would contribute a further 209 million Australian dollars (161.85 million dollars) to struggling businesses.

Merlino also demanded the Federal Government extend the wage subsidies to those affected by the ongoing restrictions.

“As we did last week, we have also renewed our request to the Commonwealth to activate a JobKeeper-style support for Victorians who have been impacted by these restrictions,’’ he said.

Freedenberg responded by saying he and Prime Minister Scott Morrison would need to consider options before making any further financial commitments on Thursday.

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