March 20, 2020 / 5:29 PM / in 8 days

UPDATE 1-Czech Chamber of Commerce wants more help for companies amid coronavirus

* Czech Republic has reported 833 coronavirus cases

* Government has announced some moves to help companies

* Chamber of Commerce president seeks further action (Adds quotes, details)

By Jason Hovet

PRAGUE, March 20 (Reuters) - Czech companies need further government measures to ease the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, which poses a bigger threat to the national economy than the 2008-09 financial crisis, the head of the Czech Chamber of Commerce said on Friday.

Chamber President Vladimir Dlouhy called for the government to boost help for business by adopting a short-time work scheme like the Kurzarbeit system used in neighbouring Germany.

Under such a system, the government would make up some of the income lost by employees whose work is reduced by factory outages, helping companies avoid layoffs.

The economy is buckling with the Czech Republic in lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak, and all three of the country’s car plants will be shut from next week.

Dlouhy, in a phone interview, said it remained difficult to forecast how many jobs were at risk because of uncertainty over how long government measures would last.

“It is clear that what is mostly needed is help for cash flows of companies,” he said. “Despite the big numbers, the real help so far has not been enough yet.”

“My personal view is that jobs do not have to be lost if we indeed provide enough support to companies to restart when this abates,” he said.

The Czech Republic has reported 833 coronavirus cases and no deaths from the virus.

The government has pledged 100 billion crowns ($3.91 billion) in direct aid for companies and 900 billion more in loan guarantees.

It has also said it will compensate firms affected by measures such as forced closures of shops, hotels and travel for most of their wage costs, and pay for the costs of partial wages for people in quarantine. Companies will also be allowed to postpone some of their tax payments.

But the measures do not cover firms that close under pressure from disruption among suppliers or customers.

Dlouhy said he hoped the government would decide quickly how all the measures will be administered but that the country was still in a good position, with one of the lowest state debt-to-gross domestic product ratios in the European Union.

“We could be one of the first among European countries who will be out of the biggest danger,” he said. ($1 = 25.5540 Czech crowns)

Reporting by Jason Hovet, Editing by Michael Kahn and Timothy Heritage

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