Greece doubles benefit for vulnerable before Christmas as pandemic bites

ATHENS, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Greece on Thursday announced an emergency cash benefit for vulnerable families whose financial conditions have deteriorated from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the money to be handed out before Christmas.

The country has seen a spike in infections since October, forcing the government to impose a nationwide lockdown, its second this year, which runs until the end of November.

Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said the guaranteed mininum income, an allowance now received by about 250,000 low-income households before Christmas, would be doubled this year.

“We aim to support every single person and take special care of the most vulnerable people, safeguarding our fellow citizens’ hard work and our country’s prospects”, Staikouras said in joint statements with Labour Minister Yannis Vroutsis.

Vroutsis also announced measures that include a one-off 400-euro benefit for long-term unemployed and a two-month extension of the unemployment benefit.

The total cost of the support measures was not immediately clear.

After a decade-long financial crisis that wiped out a quarter of its output, Greece has been growing modestly since 2017. But the coronavirus outbreak this year has shrunk output, leaving hundreds of thousands with minimal income, which prompted authorities to announce support packages worth about 23 billion euros.

The government sees a contraction in output of a “little over” 10% this year and has said that the country could expect a severe deterioration in revenue because of the second lockdown.

The European Commission on Wednesday cautioned Greece and other euro zone countries that their already high public debt would worsen during the pandemic, so they should pay attention to fiscal sustainability in the medium term.

Greece registered 3,209 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and 60 deaths, its second-highest record. The latest figure brings the total in the country to 82,034 infections since the first case surfaced in February and the death toll to 1,288. (Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou, editing by Larry King)