Australian government to aid tourism industry as bushfires recede

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The Australian government said on Sunday it will channel A$76 million ($52 million) to the tourism industry as recent heavy rains have dampened many of the monthslong bushfires, allowing the country to look to recovery.

The first cruise ship to visit since the bushfires, is seen in waters off Kangaroo Island, Australia January 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tracey Nearmy

The number of fires burning across Australia’s east and south coast has gone under 100 over the weekend for the first time in weeks, bringing relief from a disaster that has scorched an area roughly a third the size of Germany since September.

“Our federal response to these devastating bushfires is comprehensive and unprecedented,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison was cited in a statement announcing the aid.

Some 29 people and millions of animals have been killed so far in the burning bush in Australia – a country famous for its pristine beaches, abundant wildlife and open-air sporting events.

Australian Tourism Industry Council (ATIC), told Reuters earlier that damages to the tourism industry have approached A$1 billion.

The Australian Tourism Export Council, another peak tourism body, told the Australian Financial Review that the losses may go above A$4.5 billion by the end of the year.

Asked on ABC News television on Sunday whether A$76 million is sufficient, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said it was an initial package.

“There may need to be additional support and funding as we work through this recovery,” Birmingham said, according to a transcript of the interview.

Tourism has been an increasingly vital part of Australia’s economy, accounting for more than 3 percent of annual economic output.

Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, three of the states that are popular tourist destinations but which have been hit hard by the fires, are now dealing with rain bucketing down in some areas, causing floods and landslides.

Meteorologists expect more rain in Australia’s east and south on Sunday and Monday, which should further help firefighters. As of Sunday, there were 69 bushfires in New South Wales, a third of them still yet to be contained.

Storms are expected to lash parts of Victoria, but there were still 14 fires burning on Sunday, with some big blazes in the state’s mountain region known for hiking.

Fears of smoke from the fires disrupting the Australian Open tennis tournament receded in Melbourne, where the main tournament was due to start on Monday.

(GRAPHIC: How smoke from Australia’s bushfires has spread – here)

(GRAPHIC: Sizing up Australia’s bushfires – here)

(Fixes typographical error in 4th paragraph to make it “beaches” instead of “beeches”)

Reporting by Lidia Kelly; editing by Jonathan Oatis

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