March 5, 2020 / 11:24 PM / in a month

Australia orders first school closure after pupil contracts coronavirus

SYDNEY, March 6 (Reuters) - Australia ordered its first school closure on Friday after a 16-year-old pupil tested positive for the coronavirus, as authorities struggle to contain the outbreak in the country.

Australia has recorded 60 cases of infection and two elderly people have died from the virus.

While the majority of people contracted the disease overseas before returning home, Australia is on heightened alert as coronavirus begins to spread locally.

A 16-year boy in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, became the latest to be diagnosed.

Desperate to ensure coronavirus doesn’t spread, Australia ordered the closure of Epping Boys High School in the city’s north for at least one day, while the nearly 1,200 pupils and staff will need to quarantine themselves.

“Students at the school are advised to stay at home and self-isolate over the weekend,” New South Wales (NSW) state government said in an emailed statement.

“Staff are also asked to stay at home and self-isolate. The school will provide a further update over the weekend about next steps.”

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said the teenager is believed to have contracted the virus through contact with another coronavirus patient, making his a case another local transmission.

The closure comes as Australia’s government readies to announce a stimulus package to cushion the economic hit of the virus.

Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the multi-billion dollar package would target sectors most affected by the coronavirus.

Local media on Friday reported the government was considering subsidising wages for small- and medium-sized businesses amid fears of widespread job losses that could lead to a recession.

Australia’s A$2 trillion ($1.3 trillion) economy has already hit turbulence after 29 years of recession-free growth, with many economists predicting a contraction in the current quarter.

The government on Thursday warned that the crisis will subtract at least half a percentage point from first quarter growth.

Treasury Secretary Steven Kennedy said it was too early to determine the long-term economic toll of the epidemic, but it was clear it would have immediate and significant effects.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) has already cut interest rates four times in less than a year to a record low 0.50%, in response to a range of growing economic challenges.

Deputy Governor Guy Debelle said late on Wednesday the central bank has the capacity to reduce its cash rate one more time to 0.25% before deploying quantitative easing. ($1 = 1.5119 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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