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Monday, 18 January 2021

Italy readies new economic crisis plan aimed at families

AFP , Tuesday 10 Mar 2020
A man wearing a respiratory mask (L), as part of precautionary measures against the spread of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, fills an access form next to a police officer also wearing a mask at the Termini railway station in Rome on March 10, 2020 (Photo: AFP)
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Italy aired plans Tuesday to allow residents to suspend mortgage and some tax payments to help families deal with a coronavirus outbreak that has killed 463 people and prompted the government to restrict movement for its 60 million citizens.

Ministers said they would also ask the EU to allow Rome to raise its deficit spending beyond the 7.5 billion euros ($8.5 billion) planned to help businesses hurt by a sharp drop in tourism over the past month.

The new family support measures are due to be unveiled in a government decree on Wednesday following a cabinet meeting.

"The measures (will apply) for all of Italy," Deputy Economy Minister Castelli said.

She said they could include "the suspension of the payment of (salary) withholdings and contributions" in order to help families during the economic downturn.

Some banks expect Italy's economy to contract by 1.0 percent of national output between April and June.

"We are worried about this and for this reason we pushed the banking system to give as much as possible (on the) suspension of mortgages," she said.

"You will see the details in the next few hours."

Any measure even partially suspending mortgage payments could deliver a painful blow to big banks that are still dealing with large amounts of non-performing loans.

Italy on Tuesday imposed travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings to help fight the spread of a disease that has killed 463 in the Mediterranean country in just over two weeks.

The latest restrictions expanded those the government placed Sunday on the economically vibrant Lombardy region that bore the early brunt of the COVID-19 disease.

Rome aired plans earlier last week to inject 7.5 billion euros ($8.5 billion) into the economy to help businesses -- particularly those in the tourism sector -- to get by in the coming weeks and months.

But Economic Development Minister Stefano Patuanelli said "seven and seven and a half billion are not enough to face down the crisis".

Patuanelli told Italian radio that Rome was working on a proposal to ask Brussels to raise Italy's spending by around 10 billion euros.

Italy needs special EU permission to spend more than allowed under the bloc's strict budgetary rules for its 27 member states.

The extra spending is meant to help businesses such as restaurants and hotels that rely on tourists to survive.

Patuanelli's comments came as EU leaders prepared to hold an emergency videoconference on Tuesday aimed at coordinating their response to the outbreak.

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