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Economy

Asian Development Bank triples coronavirus war chest to $20bn

Governments get the most, but companies can access $2bn in financial aid

A restaurant closed due to the coronavirus outbreak is seen next to the Chao Phraya river with a view of Wat Arun temple, one of the city's top tourist spots, in Bangkok, Thailand March 27.   © Reuters

MANILA -- The Asian Development Bank on Monday tripled its fund to fight the coronavirus outbreak to $20 billion, as the regional economy faces deepening fallout from the pandemic.

Around $18 billion is earmarked for governments, many of which are readying massive stimulus programs to support their economies during the crisis, while the rest can be accessed by the private sector.

The Manila-based multilateral lender has held talks with around 10 countries, including India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam and said it would adjust internal procedures to boost lending.

"This pandemic threatens to severely set back economic, social, and development gains in Asia and the Pacific, reverse progress on poverty reduction, and throw economies into recession," ADB President Masatsugu Asakawa said in a statement.

The expanded package will help the countries and companies tackle "the pandemic and economic downturn."

The ADB expects the pandemic to wipe out 2.3%-4.8% of the world's gross domestic product and developing Asia's growth this year to fall to 2.2%, the slowest since 1998, a year after the Asian financial crisis.

Nine economies are expected to shrink, including Thailand and Hong Kong, the ADB said in its Asian Development Outlook report early this month.

"If we compare the situation with the 1997 Asian financial crisis, we have not yet suffered a financial panic, and markets are holding up," Asakawa told Nikkei on Monday. "But if infections continue to spread, a deeper [economic] slump will be unavoidable."

The ADB said loans and guarantees will be provided to financial institutions to revitalize trade and supply chains. It will also support small and medium-sized enterprises and companies responding to, or impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Asakawa said "the current of economic globalization will not change" as a result of the pandemic, although steps such as shifting production from China to neighboring countries "may accelerate."

"Once the novel coronavirus is brought under control, Asia will continue to be the center of global economic growth," he added.

Additional reporting by Jun Endo in Manila.

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