* Australian benchmark index gains 1.5% on weekly basis
* Rio Tinto closes slightly up after hitting near 6-month peak
* Westpac, NAB help financials finish higher (Updates to close)
By Nikhil Subba
July 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares closed marginally higher on Friday, helped by gains in mining and material stocks even as concerns over rising coronavirus cases kept many investors on the sidelines.
The S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4% to 6,033.60, recovering some ground after Thursday’s 0.7% drop. For the week, it was up 1.5%.
Australia’s Victoria state reported a record daily increase in COVID-19 cases while New South Wales said it was tightening some restrictions as authorities struggle to contain a new outbreak.
Helping investor sentiment, the Australian government on Thursday said it would inject a further A$1.5 billion ($1.05 billion) into a wage subsidy programme as the national unemployment rate hit a 22-year peak in June.
“It’s (the market) sitting on a wall of worry right now,” said Brad Smoling, managing director at Smoling Stockbroking.
“We have had such a sugar hit from all of the stimulus, we are taking a seat and wondering if we can keep going or start to fall over?”
The European Union will meet later in the day to discuss a proposed stimulus to kick-start the COVID-hit economy.
Mining stocks climbed 0.8%, led by a 4.4% rise in Alumina Ltd. South32 Ltd advanced 4.2%, while Rio Tinto closed 0.6% higher after touching a near six-month high earlier in the day.
Financial stocks rose 0.1%, with Westpac Banking Corp finishing 0.5% higher and National Australia Bank adding 0.2%.
The gold index rose 0.5%, led by a 4.6% jump in Alkane Resources Ltd, while Evolution Mining Ltd gained 2.4%
In New Zealand, the benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.7% to 11,584.1.
Restaurant Brands New Zealand Ltd gained 6.4%, while Property for Industry Ltd added 4.1%. ($1 = 1.4314 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Nikhil Subba in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)