New Covid assistance package for Sydney businesses and residents

New Covid assistance package for Sydney businesses and residents

A new commonwealth financial support package for locked-down greater Sydney is to be announced after the federal government signed off on a cash boost for affected businesses and households.

The new Covid assistance package, which was approved by the federal government’s expenditure review committee on Monday, was finalised by the federal and New South Wales Treasuries before a joint announcement expected on Tuesday.

The NSW government, which will co-fund the business package, is also set to announce other new assistance measures, including cash for people waiting for Covid test results to encourage them to stay at home as well as tenancy protection measures for those unable to pay rent.

Australia’s Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has also decided not to change its advice limiting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-60s, after a meeting late on Monday to consider the changed risk profile of contracting Covid following the Delta outbreak in NSW.

As Sydney entered its third week of lockdown, Scott Morrison said the cashflow support for businesses would mirror the “very effective” scheme put in place at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, which saw about $10bn in commonwealth assistance flow to businesses in NSW.

A revamped scheme to target affected businesses in NSW through the tax system is expected to be co-funded by the commonwealth but administered by the NSW government. The funds will flow later this month in the wake of one-off cash payments already announced by the NSW government under its own $1.4bn business assistance program due to flow from next week.

The federal government is also expected to increase the amount of money available to workers affected by the lockdown through emergency payments which are currently set at $350 and $500 a week, depending on the hours worked prior to lockdown.

The national cabinet agreed during the recent Victorian lockdown that states would cover business assistance costs and the federal government household assistance. But the commonwealth is now expected to cover a large portion of the business assistance after it rejected calls to reinstate the jobkeeper wage subsidy scheme.

On Monday, Morrison said the income support that was already in place needed to be strengthened, and coupled with additional business cashflow support to enable them to survive the lockdown and “push through the weeks ahead”.

“That’s what we’re bringing together. We’re moving swiftly. We’ve got to make sure you get that design right so it’s simple, very simple for businesses and it’s rapid and is supported by the banks as well,” Morrison told Sky News.

“What we learned last year when the pandemic hit is we had some very clear principles that really guided how we directed that economic support so it was maximum effect.

“One of the most effective measures, in addition to the income support, was the cashflow boost that was put in place. That was a very effective measure because it gave business a lot of confidence and it went together with the income support.”

The new package is being designed as a template for future state lockdowns and comes after the federal government knocked back calls from the NSW treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, to bring back the jobkeeper wage subsidy.

The federal health minister, Greg Hunt, announced on Monday that the commonwealth had also signed off on funding for a health package for the state, including support for general practices, pharmacies and allied health practitioners.

Personal protective equipment from the national medical stockpile, including masks, gowns, gloves and goggles would also be directed to NSW through seven primary health networks across Sydney.

The federal government remained on the defensive over the vaccine rollout on Monday, after it became embroiled in a tit for tat with Kevin Rudd over reports the former prime minister spoke directly to the global head of Pfizer about vaccine supplies for Australia’s troubled program.

The government was also forced to defend its new advertising campaign, including a graphic video of a young woman struggling to breathe amid criticism that the preferred Pfizer vaccine was not yet available to the under-40s.

“There’s always criticism of any advertising, I know that, and it was only a few weeks ago that our very critics were saying that the advertising needed to be stronger, far stronger, even making references to grim reapers,” Morrison said.

Figures released on Monday show to date there have been 9.15m vaccine doses administered.

Only 11% of the eligible population over the age of 16 is fully vaccinated with both doses while 33% have had one dose.