July 20, 2020 / 5:48 AM / 24 days ago

New Zealand economy doing better than expected, finance minister says

FILE PHOTO: New Zealand's Finance Minister Grant Robertson speaks about the "wellbeing" budget in Wellington, New Zealand, May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Charlotte Greenfield

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand’s economy is doing better than predicted, thanks to an early economic and health response to the coronavirus pandemic, the finance minister said on Monday.

The government announced plans to tackle a potential second wave of infections by setting aside NZ$14 billion ($9.16 billion) from a COVID Response and Recovery Fund included in this year’s budget in May.

“The economy is doing better than expected and is more open than anywhere else in the world,” Grant Robertson told a news conference.

“We want to manage debt as tightly as possible and remain prepared for a rainy day.”

Robertson said the government was no longer considering ‘helicopter’ cash handouts, or the direct distribution of free cash to individuals as a form of policy stimulus for the economy, a strategy it had said in May was being discussed.

Asked if such handouts were off the table, Robertson responded, “For the foreseeable future, yes.”

With 22 deaths from 1,204 virus infections, New Zealand has successfully contained COVID-19, and last reported a case of community transmission 80 days ago. Its active cases now stand at 26, all in managed isolation.

Although the economy has opened up to pre-pandemic levels, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has warned of a second wave of infections, such as those suffered by other countries.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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