Coronavirus: Government 'concerned' about economic impact - Finance Minister Grant Roberston

Finance Minister Grant Robertson is not ruling out tax cuts as a way of fighting the economic impacts of coronavirus. 

Robertson admitted on Tuesday that the Government is worried about fallout from COVID-19 but said he was confident the economy is in a position to weather the storm. 

"We are concerned, we are taking this seriously," Robertson told The AM Show on Tuesday. 

"We are in a good position to be able to respond to it though, the New Zealand economy is in good shape."

Roberston said the Government envisaged three possible scenarios as the virus continues to spread, and is planning accordingly.

"The first is a short, sharp shock to the economy... there's no doubt that that's happening," he said.

"We're probably moving more towards the medium scenario now, which is that this lasts a bit longer in terms of the impact, now that the virus has spread to other countries and we have to recognise the impact that has. 

"And then the third scenario, which we're not predicting but we are planning for, which is more of the global downturn and much longer-term effect. Each of those has got different policy responses and we're working through those now."

So far export industries such as agriculture and forestry have been the worst-affected, as global supply chains feel the impact of the virus. Importers are also feeling the pinch while the tourism and education sector has seen a large drop in numbers.

On Monday, the Government announced a $4 million fund to help struggling businesses.

Robertson said the main focus at the moment was protecting peoples' jobs, with the Government working with the industries immediately affected to offer them support.

The Inland Revenue Department had spoken to "well over 100 businesses" to make sure they're not affected if their provisional tax returns were late and the Ministry of Social Development was also working to support individuals affected, particularly contract workers left with no income, Robertson said.

"That's the work that goes on right now day-to-day to help people stay in work and help businesses stay afloat."

Robertson said it was still too early to estimate what the total cost to the economy would be.

"It's a serious impact particularly in the first half of the year but [there's] no specific dollar figure just yet."

He would not rule out the possibility of tax cuts in order to stimulate the economy.

"I'm keeping all options on the table at the moment. Clearly, if we move into a situation where we're moving beyond protecting people's jobs - which is definitely our goal at the moment - to protecting people's incomes, then you have to look at the options that are best suited for doing that," he said.

"And clearly there are two pretty obvious areas: one is direct income support, the other is the tax system - but that's some distance down the track."

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