March 10, 2020 / 7:53 AM / 25 days ago

Italy to boost coronavirus measures to help households, small firms

ROME (Reuters) - Italy will boost measures to soften the economic impact of the coronavirus such as suspending the need to pay household bills, the industry minister said on Tuesday, calling for the European Union to change its rules to allow more government spending.

A supermarket worker wearing a protective face mask serves a customer, after the Italian government locks down whole country as new coronavirus cases surge, in Naples, Italy March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca

The whole of Italy, Europe’s worst-affected country, is under lockdown until next month in an unprecedented attempt to beat the epidemic.

With the country already on the brink of recession, the government steps come at a huge cost for the euro zone’s third-largest economy and have alarmed financial markets.

The gap between Italian and benchmark German 10-year bond yields jumped above 200 basis points on Monday for the first time since August 2019.

Industry Minister Stefano Patuanelli said the government would approve measures worth around 10 billion euros ($11.35 billion) to help companies and families, telling Radio Capital this would probably cause the budget deficit to rise to just under 3% of national output this year.

Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri wrote to the European Commission last week to say Rome planned to raise the current 2.2% official target to 2.5%.

A government source told Reuters on Monday the Treasury was considering lifting it to 2.8%.

With the economy now widely expected to fall into deep recession, further upward revisions seem possible.

Patuanelli said that among a first batch of measures, the

government planned to suspend payments of bills, taxes and mortgages in order to ease pressure on small firms and households. Other steps would come later, he added.

The cabinet is due to meet on Wednesday to approve the initial package.

The minister called on the European Union to change its Stability Pact and Fiscal Compact public finance rules once the emergency linked to the coronavirus had settled, saying the economic toll would hit many people.

“We will ask for the rules to be changed, it a necessary condition, otherwise people will die,” Patuanelli said, adding it was “not a matter of ‘if’ the rules will be challenged but ‘how’ they will.”

writing by Giselda Vagnoni, editing by Gavin Jones and Nick Macfie

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