March 18, 2020 / 11:45 AM / 16 days ago

Poland unveils $51 billion anti-coronavirus package

WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland proposed a 212 billion zloty ($51.5 billion) programme on Wednesday to mitigate economic damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak, which Prime Minister Morawiecki said could last for months.

The package will boost infrastructure and healthcare spending, and help struggling companies pay salaries to avoid layoffs and allow them to defer social security payments, Morawiecki said in a televised speech on Wednesday.

“This shield is aimed at giving Poles hope that things will be better soon,” Morawiecki said, adding that the economic impact of the epidemic could surpass the 2008 financial crisis.

Last week, Poland closed its borders and shut schools, theatres and cinemas, disrupting social and economic life across the country.

On Tuesday, its central bank cut its main interest rate by 50 basis points to a record low of 1.0% and proposed large-scale treasury bond purchases and long-term refinancing operations.

Poland had 246 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths as of Wednesday.

The pandemic has hammered its financial markets, and following Wednesday’s announcement its zloty currency extended recent losses against the euro, breaking through the key 4.50 barrier with bids at 4.5068, down 0.84% on the day at 1215 GMT.

The blue-chip WIG 20 share index was down 0.6% at 1224 GMT, shedding earlier gains.

Morawiecki said the fiscal plan will be translated into draft legislation by the end of this week and then sent for parliamentary approval.

It was not immediately clear how much it would add to the 2020 general government budget deficit, forecast at 2.2% of gross domestic product. That budget assumes 2020 spending of 435 billion zloty.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski, Alan Charlish, and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; editing by Joanna Plucinska and John Stonestreet

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