Jobless Australians yesterday flooded unemployment offices around the country as Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the COVID-19 pandemic would cause an economic crisis akin to the Great Depression.
After a record 29 years of economic growth, Australia is poised to spiral into recession as the global coronavirus outbreak wreaks havoc on the country’s economy despite an A$189 billion (US$109 billion) government relief package.
In scenes not seen in Australia for decades, queues stretched around the block at unemployment offices around the country as the forced closure of pubs, casinos, churches and gyms began at midday yesterday.
An online portal for government services also crashed as job seekers rushed to register for income support payments, which have been temporarily doubled by A$550 a fortnight to help people cope with the coronavirus crisis.
With tens of thousands of jobs on the line, Morrison told his compatriots that they faced an economic crisis “the likes of which we have not seen since the Great Depression.”
“They are lining up at Centrelink offices as we speak — something unimaginable at this scale, only weeks ago,” he told parliament. “They have lost their jobs, many, and we know many more will. This is the biggest economic shock our nation has faced in generations.”
Services Australia, which operates the social welfare offices known as Centrelink, said that it was “experiencing very high demand” and urged people not to visit unless there was a “critical need” to do so.
Ahead of closing non-essential services, Australia had already shut its borders to international arrivals, while some interstate borders have been effectively shuttered and all non-essential travel is banned.
Morrison has said that the measures would remain in place across the country for up to six months, with stricter rules looming in an effort to contain the spread of coronavirus.
He said the “one in a 100-year event” meant that 2020 would be “the toughest year of our lives.”
Australia’s benchmark ASX 200 has lost 38 percent on coronavirus fears since its peak in the middle of last month, falling about 8 percent yesterday to lows not seen since November 2012.
The nation has recorded more than 1,600 cases of COVID-19, with infection rates accelerating in the most populous states. Seven people have died from the disease.
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