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Pressure on Aussie state as COVID-19 lockdown weighs on national economy

(Xinhua)    12:58, August 31, 2020

SYDNEY, Aug. 31 (Xinhua) -- A lockdown in the Australian state of Victoria aimed at stopping a COVID-19 outbreak came under scrutiny on Monday, with critics calling for a clearer plan to end the restrictions which are said to be weighing on the nation's economic recovery.

Victoria recorded 73 new infections on Monday following a month of Stage 4 lockdowns in capital city Melbourne, down from a peak of over 700 in early August.

Under the lockdown order, residents were forced to remain in their homes other than to purchase essential items, go to work in approved industries, seek or provide medical care and for one hour of physical activity per day.

According to figures released on Monday by Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, the impact on business activity means that by the end of the year more people in Victoria will be relying on government stimulus than the rest of Australia combined.

Treasury estimates showed that 60 percent of the 2.24 million people receiving the federal government's "JobKeeper" payments during the December quarter of 2020 would be Victorians.

Frydenberg criticised the Victorian government's response to the pandemic, referring specifically to a failed hotel quarantine scheme which allowed COVID-19 to leak into the community, and plans put forward to extend a state of emergency for a further 12 months.

"The number of Victorians on unemployment benefits has significantly increased with the impost of restrictions while numbers in other states have declined," Frydenberg said.

"Restrictions imposed by the Victorian government have had a devastating impact on the economy."

Shortly after Frydenberg raised his concerns, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced that he would be releasing a "roadmap" out of the lockdowns on Sept. 6.

However Andrews said that his government's plan was to wait until case numbers were firmly under control before attempting to reopen the state, in order to avoid a return to stricter lockdowns later.

"If we were to open up with numbers anything like what we had, even with a really positive trend, then those numbers will explode and we will lose control of this again," Andrews said.

"Instead of having that long term stable 'COVID Normal' where profitability can come back to so many businesses, we'll have a seesawing effect where the rules are on and off, that will do enormous damage."

A Victorian government statement said the reopening would be based on the best advice from health experts and business representatives, in order to design industry-specific plans based on social distancing, the use of face coverings in public places and good hygiene practices.

"Recognising there is no one size fits all solution, the government will commit to tailoring guidance to different industries as part of the roadmap," the statement said.

Meanwhile, top officials in the neighboring state of New South Wales (NSW) called for restrictions on NSW-Victorian border to be eased to allow agriculture workers to cross in order to assist with an upcoming harvest.

"The situation is now at the 11th hour for many producers across the state. We cannot stand by and watch farmers, crops and businesses face ruin due to the border closure with Victoria," NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro said.

"Agriculture is an essential industry. Our farmers feed and clothe the nation and we must do everything to ensure they can continue to operate as smoothly as possible."

Figures due out on Wednesday are expected to confirm what most observers strongly suspect, that Australia's economy has contracted for two consecutive quarters, technically constituting a recession for the first time in 30 years.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Liang Jun)

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