ECONOMY

Government extends pandemic support in ‘titanic effort’ to shield economy

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Greece said on Thursday it would pump another 2.5 billion euros ($3.0 billion) into its fragile economy to shield it from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it struggles to ease pressure on its overloaded health system.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a statement the total amount of funds spent this year to support businesses and jobs would increase to 11.6 billion euros from 7.5 billion initially earmarked for this purpose.

The move, he said, comes as the conservative government is making a “titanic effort” to boost the health system and would help towards a smooth transition to a post-Covid era.

Still emerging from a decade-long debt crisis, Greece has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic for more than a year, imposing and lifting restrictions to curb its spread, like most European countries.

Despite making progress in vaccinations and recently tigthening lockdown rules, infections are still on the rise.

Most of the measures announced on Thursday, which include forgiving up to 50% of government loans to businesses and extending repayment periods to 60 installments, were an extension of existing measures.

The government also said it would subsidise the monthly loan payments for Covid-hit businesses by up to 90% for eight months and provide grants for part of their fixed costs for rents, energy and telecommunications.

Greece is also preparing to open to holidaymakers in May and resurrect its tourist industry, a sector which accounts for about a fifth of its economy.

The leftist Syriza party, the main political opposition, said Mitsotakis’ unexpected statement on economic relief early on Thursday was an effort to divert attention from protests.

Clashes broke out between police and protesters after a man was beaten by police during checks on compliance with Covid-19 restrictions this week. After a policeman was beaten by protesters in another round of violence on Tuesday, Mitsotakis made a televised address calling for restraint.

Mitsotakis is expected to cross swords with Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras on the issue of violence in parliament on Friday.

Greece reported 2,633 Covid-19 cases on Wednesday and 43 deaths, bringing total infections since the first case was detected in February last year to 212,091 and Covid-related deaths to 6,886.

[Reuters]