SYDNEY - Australia will wind down emergency financial payments aimed at helping people and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic as COVID-19 vaccinations rise, with payments in some states likely to end in weeks.
The federal government has spent over A$9 billion ($6.5 billion) since June to support around 2 million people, but will phase out the payments as vaccination levels near targeted levels at 70%-80%, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Wednesday.
"We are expecting when restrictions ease, people will get back to work, businesses will reopen and people will go about their daily lives," Frydenberg told a media briefing.
Australia is grappling with a third wave of infections fueled by the Delta variant that has plunged its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne and the capital Canberra into a weeks-long lockdown, putting its A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy on the brink of a second recession in as many years.
Frydenberg said the automatic renewal of payments will end once states reach 70% full vaccination and affected workers must reapply each week to confirm their eligibility. Payments will stop two weeks after the 80% target is met.
Australia has shifted its focus to rapid vaccination drives and looks to move away from a COVID-zero strategy as it aims to live with the virus once full vaccination rates in its adult population reaches 80%, expected in November, from 53% now.
The support payments in New South Wales, home to Sydney, and the Australian Capital Territory could stop within weeks as they race ahead rest of the country with vaccinations.
Victoria reported a record number of new infections for a second day on Wednesday with 950 cases, eclipsing the previous high of 867 on Tuesday, and seven deaths. Total cases in Australia stood at around 102,000 while 1,263 deaths have been recorded.