Virus financial relief sought as Australia opens Parliament

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia’s prime minister said more targeted economic relief for businesses struggling with pandemic restrictions could be coming after Parliament resumed on Tuesday for the first time in 2021.

Tourism, aviation and hospitality are among the industries calling for extended financial help after the federal government’s pandemic wage subsidies are due to end on March 31.

With opposition lawmakers calling for more business support, Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not rule out his government providing extra funding.

“For those sectors and those areas specifically who are continuing to contend with the effects of the pandemic, we have already demonstrated that we will continue to provide targeted support,” Morrison said. “That is exactly what the government will do.”

But Morrison was adamant the economy needs to be weaned off wage subsidies, which he describes as an emergency measure.

“You cannot run the Australian economy on taxpayers’ money forever,” Morrison said.

Deputy opposition leader Richard Marles said businesses in tourism and aviation would go under without targeted help.

Lawmakers from Western Australia state were given special exemptions to attend Parliament House on Tuesday after the west coast city of Perth began a five-day lockdown on Sunday.

The city of 2 million people were told to stay at home after a security guard apparently contracted COVID-19 while delivering medication to an infected international traveler who was in Perth hotel quarantine.

The guard was the first person to be infected in Perth since April 11 last year. He has the highly contagious British variant but extensive testing of his contacts has yet to find anyone infected by him.

Health officials say lawmakers who flew to Canberra from Perth are regarded as essential workers who are not required to quarantine.

Anyone else who arrived in Canberra from Perth since Jan. 25 must remain in quarantine until Friday.

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