April 29, 2020 / 11:39 AM / a month ago

Ukrainian businessmen demand easing of lockdown and government support

* Businessmen protest, demand easing of lockdown

* Government has said it is too soon to lift lockdown

* Ukraine has reported nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases

By Pavel Polityuk and Sergei Karazy

KIEV, April 29 (Reuters) - Several hundred businessmen, many of them wearing protective face masks, called for an easing of Ukraine’s coronavirus lockdown in a protest near the government building on Wednesday.

The protesters, most of whom kept a safe distance from each other as police and the National Guard looked on, demanded more government support for small businesses and equal working conditions for all companies.

Ukraine has closed cafes, restaurants, markets, hairdressers, gyms and entertainment centres during the lockdown imposed last month, forcing many companies to shut their doors and leaving many people without work.

“While we are not working, we have run out of money, we already have nothing to eat,” said restaurateur Andriy Bondarenko at the protest in the capital, Kiev. “They (the government) have no action plan or understanding of the processes.”

The government, which has reported nearly 10,000 coronavirus cases including 250 deaths, did not respond directly to the protesters. But Prime Minister Denys Shmygal told a televised government meeting that the lockdown would be lifted gradually when the time was right.

“The fact that we have fewer cases than other countries is thanks to the lockdown. We entered quarantine in a timely way and will quit it in a timely way,” he said. “Those irresponsible calls to end the lockdown ahead of schedule put all Ukrainians at risk. We understand what steps we need to take and when.”

He urged “political forces” not to urge Ukrainians to stage protests, warning that easing restrictions too soon could result in a new increase in the number of coronavirus cases.

The government, which last week extended the lockdown until May 11, has said it expects the epidemic to peak early next month. Though it has said it is too soon to end the lockdown, it has allowed supermarkets, some hardware stores, car services and pharmacies to operate. Shmygal said food markets would also be opened.

The government has allocated 6 billion hryvnias ($222 million) for payments to the unemployed, and has increased its forecast for the unemployment rate this year to 9.4%

A survey carried out by the Rating research group in early April showed 8% of Ukrainians had lost their jobs during the lockdown, and 29% had taken a vacation. (Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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