Italy considering 24 bln euro package to help virus-hit economy- minister

MILAN, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Italy is considering a new stimulus package worth 24 billion euros ($29 billion) to support its healthcare system and its COVID-battered economy, Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said in a newspaper interview on Sunday.

“We’re considering a package worth 1.5% of our gross domestic product,” Gualtieri told Il Corriere della Sera daily newspaper, confirming that amounted to about 24 billion euros.

That exceeds previous expectations for a stimulus package worth 20 billion euros. Italy is set to receive more than 200 billion euros from the EU’s 750 billion euro Recovery Fund.

“About 1.5 billion euros will be used to buy, distribute and carry out vaccinations. For the healthcare system we expect the new package will provide an extra three billion euros overall,” Gualtieri said.

He said money would be also used to refinance support measures for local governments, furlough schemes and grants to businesses shut following restrictions imposed by Rome to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said this new package and a possible downward revision of growth estimates would lift Italy’s deficit to GDP ratio this year above the current official 7% target, but that at the moment there was “absolutely no reason” to forecast a double digit deficit ratio.

Gualtieri said that, despite recent restrictions, he thought the Italian economy had closed last year not far from a government official estimate of a 9% contraction. But he said there were “downside risks” on a projected 6% rebound this year.

“Much of it will depend on our ability to promptly start additional investments envisaged by the (European) Recovery Plan for 2021,” he said.

Italy has registered more than 78,000 COVID-19 deaths since Feb. 21, the second highest toll in Europe and the sixth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.26 million cases to date. ($1 = 0.8185 euros) (Reporting by Giulio Piovaccari;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)