VIENNA (Reuters) - The Swiss government could increase a 20 billion Swiss francs ($21 billion) loan programme to help keep companies afloat and safe jobs amidst the coronavirus crisis, the finance minister told weekly Sonntagsblick.
Like other European countries, Switzerland is pumping money into its crisis-hit economy. The government has signed off on a 20-billion-Swiss-franc emergency scheme under which companies can get state-backed, no-interest loans of up to 500,000 Swiss francs via their banks.
"It is possible that we might have to step this up," Ueli Maurer said in an interview published on Sunday. "The 20 billion are tight."
More than 30,000 loan applications have been submitted already, and guarantees worth more than 4 billion francs have been given on Thursday and Friday alone, the finance minister said.
Asked how much money the state was ready to provide, he said: "As much as is needed. We are borrowing to safe jobs."
"If we do not pump money into the economy quickly, we will have tens of thousands of unemployed within weeks."
Maurer had pointed out on Saturday that the government was happy to help with loans, but that the money must be paid back and could not cover income losses.
More than 13,000 coronavirus cases and 235 related deaths have been confirmed in the Alpine country of 8.6 million people.
The government has urged people to stay at home, imposedstrict border controls and banned gatherings of more than fivepeople to curb the epidemic's spread.
Maurer said it was important to prepare now for how best to begin to ease the restrictions in public life. "The current situation is not sustainable in the long term, neither mentally nor economically."
(Reporting by Kirsti Knolle, editing by Louise Heavens)