Venezuela asks IMF for $5 bn aid over coronavirus

Caracas (AFP) –


President Nicolas Maduro asked the International Monetary Fund on Tuesday for a $5 billion loan to help crisis-worn Venezuela cope with the onslaught of the coronavirus.

In a letter to IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva, Maduro said a $5 billion loan from the IMF's Rapid Financing Instrument "will contribute significantly to strengthening our detection and response systems."

The RFI is a mechanism by which all member countries can get financial assistance without the need to have a full-fledged economic program in place.

Contacted by AFP, the IMF declined to comment on the letter, made public on Tuesday by Venezuela's Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza.

Venezuela's health infrastructure is in tatters after five years of economic and political crisis which has sent millions of people fleeing for lack of basic staples.

Maduro has ordered a lockdown in the capital Caracas and six other Venezuelan states over the coronavirus, with the number of reported cases at 17.

Security forces on motorcycles and in vehicles are patrolling the streets of the capital to enforce the containment measures and ensure that only food stores remain open.

The country has banned flights to and from Europe, as well as Colombia, Panama and the Dominican Republic. It has also suspended school and university classes as well as sports events.

Venezuela's loan request is the first to the IMF since 2001.

"At this crucial moment and aware of the high level of contagion of this disease, we will continue to take rapid and vigorous measures" to stop the advance of the pandemic, Maduro wrote.

"We are convinced that in permanent coordination with the WHO (World Health Organization) and the support among the countries of the world, we will be able to overcome this difficult situation."