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Healthcare

Lebanon in talks with IMF over help to combat coronavirus

WASHINGTON, March 27 (Reuters) - Lebanon has expressed interest in receiving emergency financing from the International Monetary Fund to combat the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic, but has not filed a formal request for funds, IMF officials said on Friday.

IMF staff are in discussions with Lebanese authorities who have inquired about Lebanon’s eligibility to receive funds from the $50 billion in emergency funding made available by the IMF earlier this month, the officials said.

Eighty-one countries have either requested or expressed interest in such coronavirus aid, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva told reporters on Friday.

The IMF’s steering committee on Friday discussed doubling the funds available to $100 billion, given the huge and growing number of requests for assistance.

The IMF’s board on Thursday granted the first emergency loan to fight the outbreak, a $120.9 million disbursement for the Central Asian country of Kyrgyzstan.

Lebanon, one of the world’s most indebted countries, on Friday launched formal debt restructuring talks with a pledge to implement an economic turnaround plan by year-end.

The country is suffering its worst financial crisis since independence in 1943, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and falling oil prices may have damaged Lebanon’s chances of securing aid from foreign states.

As of Friday, Lebanon had reported 391 cases of coronavirus and seven deaths.

Lebanon has requested technical assistance from the IMF in the past but not any broader financial aid that would typically come with conditions.

The inquiry about targeted aid to help respond to the coronavirus is separate from that process, the IMF officials said.

Some politicians have voiced concern the IMF would impose conditions Lebanon could not meet, but many analysts believe the IMF is Lebanon’s only solution. (Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Tom Brown)

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