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Eurogroup’s Centeno says ‘no efforts will be spared’ to contain coronavirus impact

LISBON (Reuters) – Europe’s finance ministers are prepared to take fiscal measures to support growth across the bloc amid the coronavirus outbreak, Eurogroup chairman Mario Centeno said on Wednesday, adding that “no efforts will be spared”.

“We are monitoring the situation very closely,” he told journalists after a conference call with EU finance ministers.

Without providing further details, he said fiscal measures would be implemented based on countries’ specific circumstances, explaining the euro zone’s fiscal rules framework provides for flexibility to cater for “unusual events outside the control of government”.

The call was set up to coordinate national responses to the outbreak, Centeno, who is also Portugal’s finance minister, tweeted last week. The call was also attended by ministers from non-euro area member states.

“This outbreak is having a negative impact on the global economy, but the extent and duration of the problem is still uncertain at this stage,” he said, adding there was a “potential impact to growth”, including a disruption of the supply chain.

“We will coordinate our responses and stand ready to use all appropriate policy tools to achieve strong and sustainable growth,” he added.

The spread of the virus raises questions about the EU economy and the management of the European Union’s open-border Schengen area.

The coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has spread around the world, with more new cases now appearing outside China than inside.

There are almost 91,000 cases globally of which more than 80,000 are in China. China’s death toll was 2,946, with more than 166 fatalities elsewhere.

Italy is the worst-hit European country. Seventy-nine people have died from the virus in Italy so far, with more than 2,500 confirmed cases since the outbreak began 13 days ago.

“The first policies that we need to develop right now are policies directed to those directly affected,” Centeno said. “Italy has been more hit than other regions of Europe but this does not change the nature of policies, of priorities.”

The Eurogroup will reassess the situation during meetings this month and decide on next steps, Centeno said.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Sergio Goncalves and Patricia Vicente Rua; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Nick Macfie)