March 19, 2020 / 5:37 PM / 18 days ago

Chile´s Pinera unveils $11.7 billion emergency aid package to counter coronavirus

SANTIAGO, March 19 (Reuters) - Chilean President Sebastian Pinera announced a nearly $11.7 billion package of emergency measures on Thursday aimed at saving jobs and protecting small business while easing the coronavirus’ impact on the world´s top copper producer.

Pinera called the outbreak an “emergency without precedent,” and said he would invoke a special clause in the country´s constitution to immediately free up funds without congressional approval. In total, spending on the package will equal 4.7% of the country´s annual gross domestic product, Pinera said.

The measures include extending unemployment insurance to those unable to work from home, delaying tax payments for small businesses and beefing up funding to municipalities amid the crisis.

Finance Minister Ignacio Briones, who spoke after Pinera at the La Moneda presidential palace, said the plan was aimed at ensuring that the “short term impacts of the coronavirus do not become permanent.”

Latin America´s most open and export-oriented economy is expected to be especially hard hit by coronavirus. The outbreak comes as the local peso currency and markets are already floundering after months of anti-government protests in late 2019 that lingered through March.

Credit Suisse said earlier this week it expects Chile’s GDP to contract 1.5% this year compared with its earlier forecast of 1.8% growth.

Chile´s health ministry has thus far confirmed 342 cases in the country, among the highest tallies in Latin America. No one in Chile has died from the virus.

Pinera on Wednesday announced a “state of catastrophe” to confront the growing outbreak in Chile, giving the government extraordinary powers to restrict freedom of movement and assure food supply and basic services.

The South American nation has already closed schools, shut down its borders and limited public gatherings as the number of cases multiplied. (Reporting by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Tom Brown)

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