Deserted steps of the Sydney Opera House, in the wake of New South Wales implementing measures shutting down non-essential…
The steps of the Sydney Opera House as seen on March 26, 2020, deserted in the wake of New South Wales implementing measures shutting down non-essential businesses to try to curb the coronavirus.

SYDNEY - Australia has announced multimillion-dollar measures to boost mental health and emergency food services during the COVID-19 crisis.  The government will also announce a third major economic stimulus package to protect businesses and jobs.

More than a million Australians could lose their jobs as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies, which would more than double the national unemployment rate.  Airlines and travel agents have this week laid off thousands of people.  The ripples are spreading to all corners of the economy, from cafes to hairdressers and factories to theaters.  Retailers are hard hit, while lawyers, dance teachers and tradesmen are also feeling the financial strain.

Few professions are immune from the economic calamity unleashed in Australia by COVID-19, which as of March 29 had racked more than 2,800 confirmed cases and 16 deaths in Australia.

The government in Canberra has already announced unprecedented financial support for businesses that are struggling to survive.  More measures to stimulate the economy are expected in coming days.  Millions of dollars are to be given to mental health centers and emergency food programs  as the crisis deepens.

Many fired workers in Australia are unemployed for the first time and are joining long lines outside the government’s Centrelink welfare offices.

Among them is Chris Desmond.

“It is horrible, actually, to be quite honest,” he said. “ I mean, I am almost 60 and I have never been unemployed in my life, ever, and I have put myself through courses and worked at the same time, had children and never, ever been unemployed.  … I am devastated, but I am sure there’s people in a lot worse situation than I am in.  We have four adults in our family, and three of us are unemployed as of this week.”

While much of the economy is in distress, some sectors will flourish during the coronavirus pandemic.  Supermarkets in Australia are recruiting thousands of extra workers to cope with a surge in demand, but overall, the economy is sinking.

Australia has not been in recession since the early 1990s, but with much of the country grinding to a halt, experts warn that a steep economic downturn is inevitable.

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