July 27, 2020 / 1:27 PM / 9 days ago

Bulgaria to spend $694 million to limit coronavirus blow to economy

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria will spend another 1.16 billion levs ($694 million/540 million pounds) to help its coronavirus-blighted economy, support frontline medics and protect vulnerable groups in the European Union’s poorest member state, the prime minister said on Monday.

FILE PHOTO: Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov leaves a meeting at the EU summit, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Brussels, Belgium early July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron/Pool/File Photo

Three-times premier Boyko Borissov, under pressure from protesters and opposition politicians calling on him to quit over corruption in Bulgaria, says he cannot allow political “chaos” in addition to an economic downturn hitting jobs and incomes.

“I am sorry that the political class does not see what months are ahead of us ... I would understand if someone has a better plan,” he told reporters.

Among the new measures, the government will top up payments of frontline medics by the end of the year, provide bonuses to over 2 million pensioners and raise unemployment compensation.

It will spend 430 million levs to aid tourism, transport and construction businesses, and help them weather a downturn that the European Commission estimates at about 7% for this year.

The government, which has revised its 2020 budget to target a fiscal deficit of 3%, does not plan to raise new debt for now but use reserves to cover the spending, Borissov said.

In March, Bulgaria introduced a package of about 4.5 billion levs in grants and preferential loans.

The cabinet said it has saved 160,000 jobs in the country of 7 million people by paying for three months 60% of the pay for workers who otherwise would have been laid off.

The scheme will be extended through September.

It has extended different grants and offered preferential loans to companies, while banks have offered a six-month delay on loan payments.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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