Saudi Arabia pledges 50bn riyal stimulus package to offset coronavirus impact

The UAE, Egypt and other countries around the world are rolling out schemes that aim to shore up their private sectors and economies

This picture taken on December 12, 2019 shows a view of a check-in area at a terminal in Saudi Arabia's King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.  / AFP / GIUSEPPE CACACE
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Saudi Arabia unveiled a 50 billion riyal (Dh48.9bn) stimulus package to shore up its private sector and offset the coronavirus's impact on the economy.

The Arab world's biggest economy introduced the Private Sector Financing Support Programme aimed at extending finance to small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to stimulate growth and preserve jobs, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority (Sama), said in a statement on Saturday.

"The purpose of the programme is to mitigate the impacts of precautionary coronavirus measures on the SME sector, specifically by reducing the burden of cash flow fluctuations, supporting working capital, enabling the sector to grow during the coming period and contributing to supporting economic growth and maintaining employment," the central bank said.

The Saudi package was rolled out at the same time as the Central Bank of the UAE announced a Dh100bn economic plan and Egypt unveiled a 100bn pound (Dh23.3bn) plan to mitigate the virus's impact on banks, the private sector and wider economy.

The Covid-19 outbreak is the greatest challenge facing the world economy since the 2008 global financial crisis. It has disrupted global supply chains, tourism, aviation, oil prices and wiped about $17 trillion from stock markets globally.

The number of people killed in the coronavirus pandemic reached more than 5,800 on Sunday. The total number of cases worldwide sits above 157,000 with almost 75,900 recoveries.

Under Saudi Arabia's programme, 30bn riyals will be allocated for banks and financing companies to delay loan payments due from SMEs for six months.

The package will provide 13.2bn riyals to SMEs through bank loans to allow them to continue operations and prop growth.

SMEs will also get relief from finance costs through a 6bn riyal loan guarantee programme.

Saudi Arabia's "banking sector is still registering good performance indicators and this will improve its resilience to cope with future challenges and crises," Sama said. "These indicators are clearly reflected in the continuity of the commercial banks performing their vital role in the economic development of the kingdom."

On Saturday, the kingdom said it was suspending international flights for two weeks starting today to avoid the spread of the virus. The UAE which is the Middle East and Africa's biggest transit hub, also said it will suspend flights to and from Lebanon, Turkey, Syria and Iraq starting Tuesday.

News on the pandemic in Europe has now become the focus with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China, according to the World Health Organisation.

Governments worldwide are simultaneously rolling out emergency economic packages and safety measures, ranging from restricting travel to complete lockdown, to contain the spread of the virus.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have committed to extend $62bn in financial assistance and policy advice to countries in need. Last week, Iran asked the IMF for $5bn to help manage the Covid-19 outbreak. Iran is the third-worst hit country after China and Italy.