UPDATE 1-Portugal approves 5 bln euros in loans to help coronavirus-hit companies

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LISBON, May 12 (Reuters) - Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Tuesday the government has already approved 5 billion euros ($5.41 billion)worth of state-backed loans to help companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

“Until now we have approved guarantees of more than 5 billion euros and we are now reaching the maximum limit (of the 6.2 billion of credit lines available),” Costa told a news conference.

Portugal, which has reported 27,679 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 1,144 deaths, declared a state of emergency on March 18, shutting most non-essential services and confining people to their homes.

Starting on May 4, a three-phase plan was implemented to start opening up different sectors of the economy every 15 days, starting with small neighbourhood shops, hairdressers, car dealerships and bookshops.

“It was very easy to close and it is very difficult now to reopen,” Costa said. “In this time of uncertainty, we have to move on with our lives, with all our (economic) activities.”

Last month, the country’s state-backed credit lines to help companies were given the green light by the European Commission to expand to 13 billion euros and the government will use it if and when needed.

“We need Europe to help all the European economies to resume,” Costa added.

Data released by the National Statistics Institute on Monday showed 27% of Portugal’s companies, mostly in the accomodation and restaurant sectors, reported the coronavirus had an impact on their revenues.

Portugal’s economy is expected to contract by 8% this year, and unemployment to more than double to 13.9%, according to the International Monetary Fund.

A total of 91,500 people registered as unemployed between the beginning of Portugal’s lockdown on March 18 and the end of April, official figures showed, bringing total unemployment to just under 370,000 people.

$1 = 0.9235 euros Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves, Editing by Louise Heavens and Angus MacSwan