Published:  02:51 AM, 21 March 2020

Conte calls for EU's 'full firepower' against virus

Conte calls for EU's 'full firepower' against virus A handout photo made available by the Chigi Palace Press Office shows Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during a video conference, 18 March 2020. -EPA

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called Friday for the European Union to tap the "full firepower" of its rescue fund to combat coronavirus.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Conte urged the EU to adapt its European Stability Mechanism (ESM) - the firefighter for eurozone countries with serious debt problems - to fight the growing COVID-19 pandemic in the bloc.

@The ESM was crafted with a different type of crisis in mind, so it must be adapted to the new circumstances so that we can make use of its full firepower," Conte told the FT.

"The route to follow is to open ESM credit lines to all member states to help them fight the consequences of the COVID-19 epidemic, under the condition of full accountability by each member state on the way resources are spent."

The Italian premier had Thursday welcomed the European Central Bank's massive 750-billion-euro bond buying stimulus package designed to help virus-wracked economies.

The ECB unveiled the emergency $820-billion scheme to pump cash into the economy by buying additional government and corporate bonds until a least the end of the year.

Italy on Thursday overtook China's coronavirus death total and braced for an extended lockdown that could see the economy suffer its biggest shock since World War II.The Mediterranean country's toll reached 3,405 after it recorded 427 new deaths on Wednesday. Italy shut down most businesses on March 11 to fight the deadly outbreak.


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