March 21, 2020 / 10:51 PM / 8 days ago

Tunisia allocates $850 million to combat effects of coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh speaks during a handover ceremony in Tunis, Tunisia February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia is allocating 2.5 billion dinars ($850 million) to combat the economic and social effects of the coronavirus health crisis, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh said on Saturday.

Among new measures, the government will delay tax debts, postpone taxes on small- and medium-sized businesses, delay repayment of low-income employee loans and provide financial assistance to poor families.

Tunisia has confirmed 60 cases of the disease, which is expected to hit its tourism sector, which accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product.

Tunisia’s president on Friday ordered a general lockdown, limiting citizens’ free movement in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“All of Tunisia is united in this dangerous war. The war has a cost and the exceptional decisions that we announced have a cost, but we have no choice”, Fakhfakh said in speech.

The government will provide 450 million dinars in financial aid to poor families and Tunisians who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus crisis.

It allocated 1.2 billion in loans and aid to help companies affected by the crisis.

Tunisia now expects an economic recession, prompting the central bank on Tuesday to cut its key interest rate by 100 basis points.

Fakhfakh has said the government reduced its growth forecast this year to 1% from 2.7%.

Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Chris Reese

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