March 18, 2020 / 3:09 PM / 2 months ago

UPDATE 2-Colombia says it has $3.65 bln to spend on coronavirus economic measures

(Adds central bank measures)

BOGOTA, March 18 (Reuters) - Colombia on Wednesday said it has 14.8 trillion pesos ($3.65 billion) to spend on emergency measures to ease the economic fallout from coronavirus, but it will not take on additional debt to finance the efforts.

Governments on every continent have implemented draconian containment measures from halting travel to stopping sport, and are scrambling to contain the devastating economic blow as the highly contagious respiratory disease that originated in China late last year has raced across the world.

“We’ve divided the use of the resources in three parts, the first is for the health system,” Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla told journalists. “Second, we’ll need an economy functioning as much as possible, we need to promote lines of credit and guarantees.”

The country will initially spend 1 trillion pesos on the healthcare system and some 500 billion pesos on additional payments to social welfare programs for families, young people and the elderly, but can increase those figures as needed.

It will also accelerate a plan to return value added tax to the neediest Colombians from April.

Most of the funding, some 12.1 trillion pesos, will come from the country’s savings programs.

“We will not go to the market to seek more TES (treasury bonds), the resources of 14.8 trillion pesos correspond to what the country has been saving in the Oil Stabilization Fund,” Carrasquilla said.

The country also has some 48 trillion pesos available to give credit guarantees to small and medium-sized businesses and households, he added.

The central bank board held an extraordinary meeting late on Wednesday, its second in less than a week, and announced a $400 million dollar to peso swap to take place on Thursday.

The bank said it would increase the resources available to financial institutions and ease rules on which institutions can have access to funds.

Colombia said on Tuesday it will reduce its TES bond auction tranche for this year by 1.5 trillion pesos ($365.8 million), while state-run oil company Ecopetrol has cut planned investment for 2020 by $1.2 billion.

Colombia has 93 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Coronavirus chaos on global markets has sent Colombia’s peso to record lows against the dollar, but the government has said it has not considered intervention.

People in some Bogota neighborhoods were participating in a cacerolazo - a traditional Latin American demonstration where people bang pots and pans - on Wednesday evening in protest of Duque’s handling of coronavirus. Cacerolazos became common during anti-Duque protests late last year.

($1 = 4,044.55 Colombian pesos)

Reporting by Carlos Vargas, Nelson Bocanegra and Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Cynthia Osterman

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