March 17, 2020 / 3:27 PM / 14 days ago

PM says Greece at war with 'invisible enemy' coronavirus

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s prime minister announced on Tuesday a package of up to 2 billion euros ($2.20 billion) to support businesses following the coronavirus outbreak and said further restrictions lay ahead for the country.

A woman wears a protective face mask as she walks next to a church in Athens, Greece, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

“We are at war. With an enemy who is invisible, but not invincible,” the prime minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said in a state address.

Greece has reported 387 cases of COVID-19, including five deaths.

It has ordered a shutdown of retail businesses with the exception of chemists, supermarkets and gas stations, effective Wednesday.

From 0600 am (0400 GMT) on Wednesday, Greece will also shut its borders to any individual other than Greeks and EU residents unless they have a special permit.

Mitsotakis reiterated that members of the public should remain at home. Promising measures to support businesses, he urged them not to fire workers.

Banks will offer businesses hit by the coronavirus crisis a six-month freeze on loan payments as part of relief efforts to help borrowers deal with the economic shutdown, their association said on Tuesday.

Greece was on the verge of bankruptcy as late as 2015 and has required three financial bailouts since 2010, and emerged from its third international bailout in 2018.

But it will have more fiscal flexibility to tackle the coronavirus, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said on Monday.

Staikouras said euro zone finance ministers had agreed that declining revenues and outlays to cushion the blow from the shrinking of economic activity would be taken into consideration when it comes to fiscal targets.

Greece’s economy relies heavily on tourism, which accounts for about a fifth of its output, and performance of the sector is vital to the country. According to a survey published on Tuesday, Greek hoteliers have lost revenues of about 500 million euros from cancellations since February.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou, Michele Kambas and Lefteris Papadimas, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alexandra Hudson

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