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School holiday extension on table as virus spreads

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School holidays could be extended as Australia considers increasingly drastic measures to contain the coronavirus after it was declared a global pandemic.

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The nation now has more than 120 confirmed cases and the World Health Organisation has warned more infections and deaths are inevitable without urgent, aggressive action.

In Australia, that could mean forcing the nation’s primary and high school students to extend their Easter school holidays, federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has warned on Thursday.

He says medical advice will guide the decision and the government won’t be rushed even though a last-minute call could leave working parents in a bind.

“It might be that school holidays need to be prolonged,” he told ABC television on Thursday.

“We’ll listen to that medical advice and we’ll act on it. But the most important thing is we’ve put contingencies in place to be able to deal with it.”

As more confirmed cases emerged overnight, the federal government has outlined its plan to stave off a recession.

The stimulus package is expected to top $15 billion and will deliver tax relief for businesses alongside cash payments of $25,000 to help them weather the economic storm and keep their workers in jobs.

Support for welfare recipients and pensioners is also expected after the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus crisis a global pandemic.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has confirmed this year’s budget won’t be in surplus. He also admitted the business payments come with no strings attached but urged owners to use the handouts wisely.

“We say to all of those businesses: ‘We’re doing our bit to support you, we want you to support your staff during this period’,” he told ABC radio.

Economists predict Australia could fall into recession, but it won’t be known until at least two consecutive quarters of economic data show negative growth.

The March and June quarter numbers compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics won’t be released until later this year.

The Council of Australian Governments will meet on Friday to discuss the stimulus plans of the states and territories, which will be on top of the federal government’s measures.

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