Albania budgets $370 mln to fight coronavirus and help economy

TIRANA, March 20 (Reuters) - Albania passed measures totalling $370 million in its budget on Friday to soften the blow from the coronavirus crisis, including $25 million for the health sector, which is expected to deal with more cases than the 70 confirmed so far.

Prime Minister Edi Rama’s government shut the country’s borders after the first infected Albanian arrived from Italy 10 days ago, halted mass gatherings and has since escalated orders for people to stay at home after two elderly people died.

Service industries have been shut down, though the clothing, construction and call centre sectors are continuing to work after adopting health precautions.

Guarantees totalling some $100 million will be given to companies unable to pay their employees and $65 million will help the needy, small businesses and those unable to work because of stay-at-home orders, the government said.

Announcing the measures, Rama said it would write off penalties on delayed electricity bill payments worth some $150 million, which would benefit 211,024 families, while taxes on company profits would be postponed until the second half.

Government ministers and lawmakers would receive only half their wages for the duration of the crisis.

The Finance Ministry agreed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission last week that the impact of the November earthquake and the coronavirus especially will hit growth, and tourism in particular.

Albania has been promised more than 1 billion euros by international donors to start housing 17,000 homeless. (Reporting by Benet Koleka; Editing by David Clarke)