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Marshall's $350m bid to protect virus-hit SA economy

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UPDATED | The Marshall Government has unveiled an “unprecedented” $350 million stimulus package to help cushion the state’s economy against a “kick in the guts” from the looming coronavirus outbreak.

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Late today, SA Health confirmed two new cases of COVID-19 in the state – two men, one in his 60s, the other in his 70s – both of whom attended a recently-opened testing clinic at the RAH.

Premier Steven Marshall earlier said all existing patients “are doing well and will be authorised for release as soon as the virus has left their body”.

However, he said, “we can’t turn our mind away from the likely economic impacts of the coronavirus here in SA and around the world”.

“We’ve already seen a very significant effect in SA with regard to the number of international students, we’ve already seen a massive deterioration in the number of international visitors, and we’re now hearing of implications from a trade perspective,” he told reporters.

“There are going to be significant effects going forward – that’s going to happen without a doubt [and] we need to be as prepared as possible.”

Major infrastructure maintenance projects including road and hospital upgrades, new tourism infrastructure and an expanded Economic and Business Growth Fund to support local industry are the centrepiece of the new package, which was signed off by the Government’s budget cabinet committee this morning and is intended to sustain hundreds of jobs across the state.

Marshall said the “immediate $350 million economic stimulus outside the budget period” would be invested in a range of areas – with specific details yet to be decided, but likely centred on existing infrastructure projects that can be brought forward, including the tourism and housing sectors.

He said it was an “unprecedented” response but emphasised the need to get “in front of the game with regards to the local impacts of the coronavirus as it rolls out across the country”.

The package will include the $22 million post-bushfire stimulus investment announced last week to boost “nature-based tourism and fast-track the recovery of regional economies”.

“The key criteria in spending this is making sure it’s projects that are ready to go now – not in three, six, nine, 12 months’ time, but now,” Marshall said.

He also emphasised projects that “maximise SA employment and products”.

“We want to make sure we minimise the effects of the virus on our economy,” he said.

“All of these things are done because we want to protect the people from the economic impact – we want to come out on the other side stronger and more resilient than we’ve been in the past.”

The announcement precedes detail of a major federal stimulus, but Marshall said it was important to send a signal to local businesses.

“We can’t wait – we’ve got to get on with it,” he said.

“We’ve got to send a message to the people of SA and the businesses of SA that we’re getting on with the job… so business knows we’re doing everything we can to protect every single job we possibly can.”

He described the virus outbreak – after the impacts of bushfire and drought – as “a kick in the guts”.

“We know there are tough times on the way – Australia is not going to be immune from the impacts of coronavirus,” he said.

“This is all about securing jobs and keeping local businesses’ doors open. We simply will not sit back and allow the economy to be put on ice.”

To gain funding under the stimulus package, projects must be able to begin within a short period, be labour-intensive and/or require significant local purchasing of materials, services and supplies.

The announcement came after the opening of Adelaide’s fifth coronavirus clinic.

The clinic at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital will be available from 9am-8pm every day, focusing on pregnant women, children and their parents.

Parents and children who have flu-like symptoms and have travelled overseas within the last 14 days or have been in contact with someone who has the virus will be tested.

Across all SA clinics, almost 400 people have been tested since the first facility opened last Wednesday.

Women’s and Children’s Hospital chief executive Lindsey Gough said there was a likelihood of people presenting for unnecessary testing.

The public is reminded not to attend clinics if they do not meet the testing criteria.

The hospital’s patient flow director Monique Anninos said the maximum number of patients treated daily was unclear.

“We haven’t had a clinic like this open since the Swine flu in 2009,” Anninos said.

“We saw a significant increase in numbers when schools closed which is the biggest concern.”

Clinical director of pediatrics Dr Gavin Wheaton said although there was little data, information from other countries suggested children were mildly affected compared to adults.

“There is limited data but some evidence (also) suggests that babies of pregnant women who have coronavirus are not at particular risk,” Dr Wheaton said.

“We are expecting that the numbers (of tests) initially be quite low.

“There is the potential for the numbers to increase significantly in the coming days and weeks.”

A COVID-19 test collection centre also opened today at the Repat hospital at Daw Park.

The government said the service was designed for patients who have been assessed and received a pathology request form from their GPs.

Patients book ahead, then arrive and stay in their vehicle and wait to be swabbed by masked, gloved and gowned SA Pathology nurses, before driving off, with test results to be sent to GPs later.

The drive-through collection centre will be open from Monday to Friday, from 8am – 4.30pm.

“We’re not going to stop [coronavirus] coming, we’re not going to stop it spreading around the country,” Marshall said.

“But what we can do is slow the progress so we’re putting ourselves in the best position possible to prepare for the necessary response to the inevitable outbreak… we’re leading the nation in preparedness and response to the coronavirus outbreak.

“There’s a lot of work that’s been done, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”

-with AAP 

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