Australian unemployment rate to double as virus hammers economy

Sydney (AFP) –


Australia's unemployment rate is expected to soar from 5.1 percent to 10 percent in the June quarter as the coronavirus fallout hits the economy, according to Treasury figures released Tuesday.

The doubling in the unemployment rate would see an estimated 1.4 million people out of work, after the government banned non-essential travel and forced the closure of bars, restaurants and gyms to stem the spread of COVID-19.

In scenes likened to the Great Depression, people have been queueing for welfare and food handouts across the country of 25 million.

The spike in unemployment represents the highest jobless rate since 1994, as Australia faces the prospect of its first recession in nearly 30 years.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the numbers would have been worse without US$83 billion in government spending to subsidise salaries at businesses impacted by the coronavirus.

"In the absence of the Aus$130 billion JobKeeper payment, treasury estimates the unemployment rate would be 5 percentage points higher and would peak at around 15 percent," he said in a statement.

"More than 800,000 businesses have already registered for the JobKeeper payment which will allow the economy to recover more quickly once we are through to the other side of the crisis," he said.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has warned Australians they are facing the "toughest year" of their lives, called the latest data "heartbreaking".

The nation has recorded almost 6,400 cases of COVID-19, though in recent days the infection rate has slowed dramatically.

A total of 61 people have died of the virus in Australia.