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Tourism dries up, so Trad offers payroll tax holiday

Politics

Up to 100 people a day are being tested for the coronavirus in Queensland amid fears the COVID-19 outbreak may have already started and its economic impact will prove long-lasting.

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Even before an Australian outbreak is confirmed, the travel restrictions have taken a toll on the economy, with Queensland particularly exposed due to its reliance on overseas tourists and students.

Health officials are discussing the situation every day and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will host a Cabinet health subcommittee meeting this afternoon.

In an effort to support small and medium businesses, Deputy Premier and Treasurer Jackie Trad today offered six-month payroll tax deferrals, backdated to February 1 when the first restrictions were imposed.

“We don’t know how long the coronavirus will affect our economy,” Trad said, repeating Treasury’s warnings of a $1.7 billion hit to Queensland this financial year alone.

“That’s why government needs to step up, and we need to support Queensland businesses, and we need to support Queensland workers.”

However, Trad warned of a “ripple effect” if China’s domestic response to the crisis slashed Australian exports, with falling coal prices already reducing the state’s anticipated royalty take. Key financial indicators, and the government’s budget position, are deteriorating.

“These are very unpredictable times,” Trad said, ahead of delivering an election-year Budget on April 28.

With the Australian stock market falling, and the Reserve Bank expected to cut interest rates tomorrow, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is under increasing pressure to commit to an economic stimulus package. Worse-affected countries, such as Japan, have rolled out stimulus measures, but Morrison last week said he would carefully target any spending and not “splash it around”.

Over the weekend, Queensland Health leapt into action after a Gold Coast beautician, who had recently returned from Iran, reported symptoms confirmed to be COVID-19.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said none of the woman’s clients were considered to be at serious risk, nor her fellow airline passengers, but authorities had assessed several clients and also other staff as a precaution.

Across the state, up to 100 people are being tested every day for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

“Could I please ask every single person in Queensland who has returned from overseas and who has become unwell – with any symptom at all – to immediately seek medical advice,” Dr Young said.

“That’s the way that we will be able to continue to contain this virus so we don’t get community transmission of the virus.”

There have so far been 29 cases in Australia, and one man has died after falling ill on the cruise ship Diamond Princess. The Commonwealth has imposed travel restrictions, most recently on Iran, however there are concerns the coronavirus will continue to spread through countries – and even communities – without warning.

In a $20 million budget measure, Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles has moved to bring forward more elective surgery, in anticipation of a COVID-19 outbreak causing a blowout in waiting times.

Any outbreak, coinciding with the normal flu season, would put significant pressure on the health system. Young has urged people at risk to have their flu shot.

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