Scott Morrison says the government has been working hard to stay ahead of the virus. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

$20bn stimulus touted

The federal government will announce a stimulus package of up to $20 billion tomorrow to fight the impact of the Covid-19 virus, it has been reported this afternoon, while $2.4 billion of new health funding was announced today.

The stimulus package will be led by a $500 cash payment to Newstart recipients, pensioners and small businesses, according to Sky News.

There are about 700,000 Newstart recipients in Australia, and 2 million small businesses, according to government data.

There will be further tax incentives and cash flow support for small businesses in the package.

A spokesperson from the Prime Minister's Office had not responded to a request for details by the time of publication.

To put the figure in perspective, the first round stimulus package during the Global Financial Crisis was $10 billion, which was followed by further rounds and ongoing infrastructure investment.

Also today, the government announced wage subsidies for about 117,000 apprentices in businesses with less than 20 staff, worth $1.3 billion.

It comes after share markets have been routed in recent weeks, with the ASX200 down 20 per cent from a peak in late February.

Earlier today, the government announced a $2.4 billion healthcare plan to take action on the coronavirus.

About $100 million will fund a new Medicare service for people in quarantine to access health consultations over phone and video.

A further $25 million will fund home service for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme recipients.

The biggest chunk, $1.1 billion, will ensure patients and health care staff have face masks, medicines and protective equipment, and buy antivirals for the National Medical Stockpile.


Visitors from Italy will be banned from Australia as the government steps up efforts to protect the country from coronavirus.

The ban, to start from 6pm on Wednesday, comes as the Morrison government announced a $2.4 billion boost to health services.

A multi-billion-dollar federal economic stimulus plan is also expected to be announced on Thursday before Mr Morrison's meeting on Friday with state and territory leaders to discuss their contribution.

Free telehealth services and pop-up testing clinics will be set up and from Friday phone hook-ups with GPs to diagnose coronavirus symptoms can be bulk-billed.

"We've been working hard to stay ahead, and it's important that we all keep our heads as well," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

"Every Australian has a role to play - whether you're in government, federal, state, local, whether you're an employer, whether you're an employee, wherever you happen to be."

The Italy measure joins bans already in place for visitors from China, Iran and South Korea.

"I think that it is important not to overstate this," Mr Morrison said.

"Italy itself has effectively put itself into lockdown with travel now, and this largely closes that loop."

Under the health boost, authorities will establish up to 100 "pop-up" clinics, with each expected to handle 75 patients a day.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said some pop-up clinics were already running, including at hospitals in Melbourne and South Australia.

There are a further three in Perth.

The Australian Medical Association will help the government with locations for the rest, which will be progressively rolled out.

AMA president Tony Bartone says people with symptoms should only go to a clinic if they've recently been overseas or had contact with someone diagnosed with the virus.

The government hopes the clinics will divert people with coronavirus away from hospitals.

As well, extra funds will be spent on research and a communication strategy.

Aged care coronavirus-related services will be boosted with training of staff in infection control, extra staff in cases where an urgent health response is needed and specialist onsite pathology services.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg met with bank CEOs on Wednesday to discuss the impact of the virus on the economy.

Australian Banking Association chief Anna Bligh said banks were in the "best-ever shape" to face the challenge and were well capitalised, with strong balance sheets.

"Banks stand ready to assist and if anyone is in need of assistance, they shouldn't wait to come forward," she said.

A number of schools in NSW and Melbourne have temporarily closed because of the coronavirus, but Education Minister Dan Tehan doesn't expect state-wide closures.

Mr Tehan said it would be more likely for schools in particular areas to close, with the government relying on expert medical advice.

Universities are scaling back their course offerings or providing more online tuition.

But Southern Cross University has gone further, temporarily closing its Gold Coast and Lismore campuses today after a staff member visiting from the Philippines tested positive to the virus.

There have been 109 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, including three new cases in Western Australia confirmed today.

The two men aged in their 50s and 60s, and one woman aged in her 30s, had separately travelled to Europe, the UK and US.

They are all in a stable condition and in home isolation, chief health officer Andrew Robertson said. 

He said some developed symptoms on their return to Perth and some while they aboard the plane.

The new cases bring WA's total COVID-19 cases to nine.

Three Australians have died from the virus, and more than half of the nation's confirmed cases have been cleared.

Flights taken by coronavirus patients, plus any notable venues they visited, will be listed on the WA Health website as details emerge, Health Minister Roger Cook said.

Mr Cook announced an expansion of PathWest facilities dedicated to collecting and testing swabs for COVID-19, and mobile collection teams in the metropolitan and regional areas.

That will increase testing capacity to about 1500 people a day by the end of this month, he said.

Specialist clinics that opened at three Perth hospitals on Tuesday saw 800 people and up to 450 are being tested, with the results expected later this week.

"I think it's inevitable that we'll see a higher number of people testing positive," Mr Cook said.

The Pandemic Plan, which was last updated in 2014, includes preparations to close schools and businesses, cancel major events and public transport, and special arrangements for shopping hours.

"But we are a long way from that," Mr Cook said.

Businesses and organisations are urged to review working from home, leave and other employment arrangements to ensure they can implement "social distancing", the plan reads.

Enhanced border surveillance may also be implemented.

WA Premier Mark McGowan said the state government was considering payroll tax relief to help businesses withstand the coronavirus crisis, and is meeting with the mining industry before travelling to Canberra for the Council of Australian Governments meeting on Friday.

He urged the community to remain calm, continue to visit public places like shops and restaurants, and listen to health advice.

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