Parents will receive free childcare if they have to keep attending work in the latest billion dollar step to fight the economic devastation of coronavirus.
“If you have a job in this economy, then that is an essential job,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, flagging that these parents will be prioritised.
“I don’t want a parent to have to choose between feeding their kids and having their kids looked after.”
The $1.6 billion childcare package is designed to save as many of the sector’s 13,000 childcare and early learning services as possible.
The funding will start from April 6 and will cover enrolments as they stood in the fortnight leading up to March 2, before people started pulling their kids out of care en masse due to losing their jobs or out of health fears.
The means and activity-testing of fee subsidies will be dropped while the new system is in place.
Mr Morrison rejected suggestions there was conflicting advice about the safety of sending children to school or child care.
“There is no health risk to children going to school or going to child care,” he said on Thursday.
Year 12 students and renters could be next in line for help when the national cabinet of federal and state leaders meets on Friday.
Meanwhile, Australia’s coronavirus death toll has risen to 24 following three reported deaths on Thursday with the number of diagnosed cases now more than 5000.
But there are early signs the rise in infections may be starting to slow.
The rate of daily growth has fallen to about nine per cent after being as high as 30 per cent last week.
“We are slowing the spread. That is happening. That is saving lives and it is saving livelihoods,” Mr Morrison said.
“That is welcome, but it is still not enough.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said there were important early signs of flattening the curve, but the improvements were not yet consolidated or sustained.
He said physical distancing, a world-leading testing regime and tough borders had put the country in a strong position.
“We have built a ring of steel around Australia through our borders,” Mr Hunt said in Melbourne.
The testing rate is now at 1000 for every 100,000 people, which equates to about one per cent and makes Australia the world leader.
Mr Hunt said Australia’s death rate of less than one per cent of cases was among the lowest globally.
Drastic efforts are being made to limit the health crisis’ devastating effect on the economy.
Federal parliament will sit on Wednesday to pass the record-breaking $130 billion wage subsidy package designed to save millions of jobs over the next six months.
It’s part of $320 billion, or 16.4 per cent of gross domestic product, in federal government spending commitments.
Hundreds of thousands of people out of work are being encouraged to use a new online jobs hub, which lists available positions.
Energy networks across NSW, Victoria and South Australia say they will give businesses struggling with the coronavirus bill relief.
Governments are also working to guard against the health system being overwhelmed as infections rise in coming months.
Up to 20,000 registered nurses will be trained online to ready them for intensive care work, including fitting respirators.
People are being ordered to stay home unless for work, study, essential shopping and medical appointments.
Police are cracking down on those ignoring social distancing measures despite some criticism of heavy-handed tactics.