March 18, 2020 / 9:57 PM / 3 months ago

Slovenia plans to ban public gatherings, delay loan repayments

LJUBLJANA (Reuters) - Slovenia plans to impose a ban on socializing in public spaces from Friday to slow the spread of coronavirus, Interior Minister Ales Hojs told national TV Slovenia late on Wednesday.

Earlier on Wednesday the EU country, which borders on Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, moved to lessen the impact of the heath crisis on businesses and farmers with a proposal to delay bank loan repayments to those affected for 12 months.

The country has so far confirmed 286 coronavirus cases. One person has died while six people are in intensive care.

Hojs said people will be able to go to work, pharmacies or food shops but all socializing in public spaces will be prohibited. He added those who will not respect the decree may be penalized by up to 400 euros ($437).

The country is struggling with lack of protective equipment, particularly face masks, and hopes to import a significant number of those over the next days.

Slovenia on Wednesday also reduced the number of border crossings with Italy to four and will go on performing health checks there. Before the outbreak there were over 20 border crossings with Italy open.

Hojs said he will also push for temporary army powers to help police control the state border.

Finance Minister Andrej Sircelj told a news conference after a government meeting on Wednesday that the Slovenian financial system “is stable and will remain stable” even after the law on loan repayment delays is enforced in the coming weeks.

The country has since Monday closed all schools and kindergartens, all public transport, hotels, bars, restaurants, sports centers and most shops, apart from those selling food. Passenger air traffic has been canceled since Tuesday.

Several companies, among them Slovenia’s largest exporter Revoz, a unit of France’s Renault, closed for lack of production parts.

Analysts estimate income for Slovenian companies could fall by some 5 billion euros ($5.46 billion) this year as a result of the health crisis. Slovenia’s GDP was 48 billion euros in 2019, its national statistics office said.

The government’s macroeconomic office UMAR expects GDP growth this year of 1.5%, providing that conditions stabilize in the second half of the year. The economy expanded by 2.4% last year.

Reporting by Marja Novak; Editing by Alexander Smith and Howard Goller

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