Coronavirus: Economic fallout will equal GFC

AS the nation prepares for "millions" of Australians to be infected with the coronavirus, there are warnings its impacts will be "deeper, longer and wider" than the SARS outbreak with job losses across multiple industries on the way.

The drop in travel bookings to Australia caused by the coronavirus has been far worse than the bushfires, as frightened tourists hunker down in the face of the pandemic, in a billion-dollar cost to the industry.

But Gold Coast and Cairns will be in the front lines of a new multimillion-dollar campaign aimed at bringing in British and US travellers.

Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has warned the downturn facing the industry was "more severe than anything previously confronted in modern times".

Treasury Secretary Dr Stephen Kennedy and Senator Mathias Cormann at Estimates meeting in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage
Treasury Secretary Dr Stephen Kennedy and Senator Mathias Cormann at Estimates meeting in Canberra. Picture: Gary Ramage

Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said worst case scenarios being looked at included the potential for "some millions of people being infected over a period of several weeks", but he added that the healthcare system could cope.

Mr Morrison also said the disease's financial impact was likely to be "equal to that of … the global financial crisis".

Treasury boss Stephen Kennedy revealed the virus was already expected to shrink the Australia economy by at least 0.5 per cent in the March quarter and be "deeper, longer and wider" than the deadly SARS virus in 2003 which wiped $40 billion off the global economy.

"It will create more risk of a prolonged downturn and fiscal support will be needed to accelerate the recovery of the economy, especially once the health and health management effects of COVID-19 begin to fade."

He said there was good news, with the nation's finances in a stronger position to deal with the situation than many others around the world.

"The Australia economy is well placed to respond to this shock," Dr Kennedy said.

"It will be longer term than SARS, but we will recover on the other side."

The Treasury boss said government assistance should be targeted to industries most impacted, like tourism and education, as well as the financial sector.

Griffith University economics professor Tony Makin, a former Treasury economist, said it meant job losses were likely coming in particular in tourism and education sectors.

"More broadly on the demand side of the economy it's a fear that's gripping consumers that will have an impact. A reluctance to go out and shop and mix with crowds will be a big problem for retailers," Prof Makin said.

He said a stimulus response should be targeted at specific industries, as well as consider fiscal measures like instant asset write offs, tax holidays and shortening depreciation times.

"There is an argument that if you go down a cash splash road people will just save that money and the government will go into greater debt."

Meanwhile, shocking data from Tourism Australia reveals there has already been a 70 per cent drop in bookings from places like Singapore and Japan, reaching unprecedented low levels. But there have been drops of 20-40 per cent in places like the US, UK, Germany, Canada and France.

Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham says this has been an unprecedented downturn for the tourism industry. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham says this has been an unprecedented downturn for the tourism industry. Picture: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

In a bid to get overseas travellers still keen to get on a plane to travel, a major campaign targeting the Poms and Yanks will be launched, with TV advertising and 1000 billboards to be launched across the two countries.

Senator Birmingham said bookings had just started to recover from the bushfires when the virus went global.

"We're putting Queensland tourism hot spots such as the Gold Coast and Tropical North Queensland front and centre in any active campaigns to get those tourists we can into those businesses who rely on them," he said.

"In these tough times some consumers will turn to countries with reputations like ours for offering fun times in a safe environment, such as Queensland destinations famous for offering the best of nature, relaxation and indulgence."



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