March 11, 2020 / 3:44 PM / a month ago

UPDATE 1-Czechs say could cut rates to mitigate coronavirus impact

(Updates to including governor, PM comments)

PRAGUE, March 11 (Reuters) - The Czech National Bank could cut rates to help the economy through the coronavirus outbreak although there was not yet an acute need, Governor Jiri Rusnok said Wednesday.

Rusnok said the outbreak would have an economic toll on the export-oriented central European economy which has close trade ties to Germany.

The bank has been dealing with slowing growth in the past year even as fast wage growth has pushed up inflationary pressures, leading to a surprise interest rate hike a month ago to bring its main policy rate to 2.25%.

“We will monitor the situation’s development very closely,” Rusnok told a news conference alongside Prime Minister Andrej Babis.

“If it turns out that a rate cut would be a reasonable, effective measure to support the Czech economy, then we will certainly do it.”

“But such thing is not ripe yet,” he added.

Babis met Rusnok and the central bank board on Wednesday but said it was too early to count the economic hit from the outbreak.

Babis told reporters the priority remained containing the spread of the virus that has infected more than 60 people since the country announced its first cases on March 1.

He said the government was ready to help the worst-affected sectors, such as travel and airlines, although it was too early to specify measures or to abandon a planned 40 billion crown ($1.76 billion) budget deficit for this year.

He said his government would be flexible with tax payments, adding he was ready to talk to banks that he said have been profitable and should be “very forthcoming” to businesses now.

Most of the cases so far in the Czech Republic have been related to people returning home from northern Italy, the worst-affected country in the world after China.

The Czechs have banned flights from that region and have boosted checks on incoming travellers along its borders to prevent the spread.

It has also banned public gatherings of more than 100 people, leading to major sports leagues either suspending play or playing without fans. From Wednesday, the state has closed schools indefinitely. ($1 = 22.7370 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Jan Lopatka and Robert Muller; Writing by Jason Hovet; Editing by Alison Williams)

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