This note considers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Eastern Partner countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine). It analyses the economic and social impacts, as well as policy responses to contain the spread of the virus and help households and businesses weather the crisis. Finally, a menu of policy options is considered for supporting small and medium-sized enterprises in the short and medium terms, with a particular focus on digitalisation.
This version includes updated figures on the epidemiological situation, a description of the latest support measures introduced, and an initial assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on the business sector.
During the first phase of the pandemic, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on public health in the six EU Eastern Partner (EaP) countries was limited compared to Western Europe. Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia saw the region’s first cases of COVID-19 in late February. Swift containment measures and limited intra-regional mobility helped limit the spread of the virus, and the number of recorded cases remained relatively low in the South Caucasus. As the epicentre of the pandemic shifted first to Italy and then to other West European states in early March, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine started to record more cases and adopted containment measures similar to those of other European countries: closure of schools, limitations on international travel, and restrictions on public gatherings. Belarus has been the only EaP country without comprehensive containment measures.
The relaxation of containment measures allowed for a gradual reopening of economic activities during summer and was followed by a surge of infections in September. Peaks in the number of daily new cases have been reached in Ukraine, Moldova and even Georgia, which had been very successful in limiting new infections in the first phase of the pandemic. Such short-term dynamics confirm that, as long as the virus circulates and a vaccine is not available, the public health situation can change rapidly. As of 13 October, the EaP region has recorded 524 012 confirmed cases and 9 128 fatalities.
The economic impact of the crisis is already proving severe. The simultaneous supply and demand shocks reduced economic activity in key European, North American and Asian markets more severely than during the Great Recession of 2008-09. The OECD projects that global GDP will contract by 4.5% this year under its baseline scenario. All G20 economies except China are expected to shrink. A recovery of perhaps 5% is projected for 2021. This implies that world GDP at the end of 2021 would be at about the level of end-2019: a loss roughly equivalent to 7.5-8% of global GDP. That is roughly equivalent to the annual GDP of France and Germany combined. The downside scenario points to losses closer to 13% of global GDP over the two years, with an optimistic scenario in which the losses could be as little as 4.8%. Though grim, this outlook represents an improvement since the spring: policymakers have reacted and managed to buffer the initial shock. Activity has rebounded in many places as confinement measures started to ease. However, momentum in many countries appears to be plateauing and confidence remains weak, against the backdrop of a resurgent virus in much of the world.
The economic impact on the EaP region is further exacerbated by the recent collapse in oil prices, which directly hits Azerbaijan and Belarus but also affects other EaP countries, particularly Armenia and Georgia, through its impact on trade and remittances. The oil-price drop has pushed Russia into recession for the second time in five years, with the EBRD predicting a 4.5% decline in real GDP this year.
Containment and social distancing measures, vital for slowing the spread of the pandemic, are having a particularly severe impact on small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as demand for services other than food retail plummeted. EaP countries have implemented significant reforms in recent years to support their SMEs and build better institutional environments to enable their growth (for more information, see the SME Policy Index 2020: Eastern Partner countries). However, the current crisis requires the adoption of comprehensive support packages that encompass not only direct SME support through credit lines and loan guarantees, but also fiscal and social policy measures. Intensive support will also be needed in the medium to long-term, especially to help SMEs recover quickly from the crisis by supporting digitalisation, more flexible regulation and better access to finance. International organisations, including the European Union are helping the region respond to the crisis. The EU has mobilised €80 million to cover for immediate needs, followed by an additional emergency support package of up to €966 million to foster the social and economic recovery of the six countries.
EaP countries reported their first COVID-19 cases in late February/early March 2020, shortly after the virus started to spread in the EU. Since then, and in line with the global trend, the number of officially reported new cases, for the EaP region as a whole, increased sharply to reach a first peak towards the end of June. Following a slowdown in July/August, the number of new infections rapidly accelerated in September, bringing the official numbers to 524 012 confirmed cases and 9 128 deaths as of 13 October (Figure 1 and 2). In absolute terms, Ukraine appears to be the most affected country in the region, although Moldova and Armenia display the highest rate of deaths on a per-capita basis (Figure 3). Overall, the EaP region is still showing fewer cases and deaths relative to population than the hardest-hit EU countries, although the current trend suggests that the region may not yet be past the most acute phase of the epidemic.
EaP governments moved quickly to contain the epidemic. Considering their proximity to Iran, an epidemiological hotspot, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia swiftly introduced restrictions on travel and public gatherings, and closed schools. With the exception of Belarus, the spread of COVID-19 within the region prompted most EaP countries to mandate strict containment measures similar to the “lockdowns” adopted in many EU countries, and, in some cases, declare states of emergency. Restrictions included closure of non-essential businesses, social distancing and self-quarantine, school closures, compulsory wearing of protective masks in public spaces, limitations on intercity and interregional transport, and penalties for violators. By late May, the most restrictive measures were lifted to allow for a gradual reopening of economies and, despite the surge of new cases observed in September, EaP governments are reacting with increased testing and targeted containment measures in lieu of comprehensive lockdowns of the kind seen earlier in the year.
EaP countries have so far managed to avoid the pressure on national health systems experienced by many of their European neighbours, keeping the number of patients requiring intensive care below the critical threshold of hospitals’ available capacity. In particular, all countries have taken steps to make their health infrastructures and workforce more flexible and increase their readiness to meet potential surges in demand as the epidemic evolves. The most frequent actions included i) repurposing hospitals so that patients can be treated in dedicated facilities to limit the spread of the infection, ii) redeploying intensive care unit specialists to hospitals with the highest demand, iii) re-training of medical and nursing personnel caring for COVID-19 patients, and iv) mobilising medical students in their final year of education.
While no EaP country reported a lack of medical personnel (Figure 4), some (e.g. Armenia, Ukraine) identified shortages of key resources needed to test and treat COVID-19 patients (laboratory testing reagents, ventilators, intensive care unit equipment, and personal protective equipment), which raised concerns about the ability to cope with the situation had the infection continued to spread rapidly. By early October, however, all EaP countries had increased their resources to test COVID-19 patients, and introduced dedicated protocols to treat the most severe cases and maintain essential health services.
As the epidemiological situation evolves, the delicate equilibrium described above may change, compounding shortcomings in the ability of EaP countries to provide universal access to quality healthcare. Per capita expenditure on healthcare in the region falls in the range of 400-1200 USD (or 3.9%-8.2% of GDP per capita), lower than the OECD average of 3 994 USD (or 8.9% of GDP per capita) in 2018 (Figure 5). In addition, healthcare in the EaP region (with the exception of Belarus) is mostly financed by households through private out-of-pocket payments, which may limit access to healthcare. This stands in sharp contrast to the situation in most OECD countries, where the largest portion of healthcare costs are financed by public sources.
The economic impact of COVID-19 on access to healthcare in the EaP region will be twofold, with the risk of further exacerbating existing inequalities. The reduction in economic activity will hit public finances through lower tax revenues, which in turn may limit governments’ ability to maintain current levels of public expenditure on healthcare. Furthermore, a rise in unemployment and loss of business revenues will erode disposable incomes for the most vulnerable households, thus limiting the availability of private resources to cover the remaining share of healthcare costs.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis first reverberated through the financial markets as international investors started to withdraw investments from the region. The yield curves for government bonds of all EaP governments rapidly grew steeper in March, as the severity of the crisis became apparent. The currencies of Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine lost over 10% of their value relative to the dollar by the start of April. The lockdown measures saved countless of lives but brought economic activity to a halt with the exception of Belarus, where authorities did not impose a national lockdown. Closed borders disrupted trade and tourism flows and prevented many seasonal workers, especially in the agricultural sector, from going abroad for work. At the same time, the fall in global commodity prices directly affected Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus, in particular, while the fall in remittance inflows compounded the adverse negative effects across the region. The economic impact in the second quarter of 2020 surpassed the severity of the Global Financial Crisis. According to EBRD estimates, output will fall by 4.5% this year in the EaP region. In Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, output is expected to fall by 5 to 5.5%, while in Azerbaijan and Belarus the fall in output is expected to be less dramatic at 3.0-3.5%. Recovery will be lengthy: the EBRD estimates that it will take until 2022 before the region’s GDP recovers to the pre-crisis level, and in Azerbaijan the recovery could take up to until 2025.
Financial markets are usually the first to react to economic uncertainties and are a good indicator of investor sentiment. Trends in government bond yields and local exchange rates indicate falling investor confidence in the region’s economies (Figure 7 and Table 1). However, the yield curves for EaP government bonds have flattened somewhat since late March, even if they continue to remain more upward sloping than before the crisis. All EaP countries except Azerbaijan have experienced significant currency depreciation (the Azerbaijani manat is subject to currency controls) and growing yields on government bonds, signalling heightened concern about the health of public finances in the EaP countries. With the exception of Azerbaijan and Moldova, the currencies of EaP countries remain weaker than before the crisis (roughly 20% lower in Belarus and Ukraine). However, recent depreciations are attributable not only to the impact of COVID-19 but also to political instability.
In recent years, the general government balances have been negative in most of the EaP countries (except Azerbaijan and Belarus), and this year they are expected to become steeply negative across the region. Hard hit by the fall in oil prices, general government net borrowing is expected to reach 13% of GDP in Azerbaijan and will average 6% for the rest of the region, according to IMF estimates. Long-running current account deficits exacerbate the pressure on public finances. The economic impact was already reflected in March in shrinking reserves and foreign currency assets across the region. Azerbaijan reportedly spent over 2.7 billion USD to maintain the manat’s fixed exchange rate. In March, Belarus’s reserve assets declined by over 10%, Ukraine’s by 7.8%, Moldova’s by 2.5% and Georgia’s by 1.1%. Despite the initial fall, EaP countries successfully rebuilt foreign reserves from April onwards, returning to pre-crisis levels through the summer. By August, Ukraine increased its foreign reserves from the March low-point by 16.5%, Moldova by 17%, and Georgia by 16.6%, according to CEIC Data.
Yield to maturity (% p.a.)
Yield to maturity (% p.a.)
Yield to maturity (% p.a.)
Note: Yields on selected bonds denominated in USD; Moldova does not have outstanding bonds denominated in USD/ EUR.
Source: Bloomberg Markets
The stringent containment measures to combat the spread of the virus led to significant short-term declines in output. During the period of national lockdowns, several service sectors, such as those related to tourism and proximity services that require direct contact between customers and service providers, saw virtually all of their revenues disappear as a result of the restrictions on movement and the requirements of social distancing. Most retailers and restaurants were closed for extended periods, and increases in their online and take-away sales did not compensate for the massive drop in demand, particularly in places where internet penetration is lower and cyber-commerce less developed. Moreover, non-essential construction work was affected by limited labour mobility and reductions in investment.
Altogether, the most-affected sectors account for 30-40% of total output in the EaP economies. The impact of containment measures on annual GDP growth will ultimately depend not only on how long these measures remained in place but also on other factors, such as the speed or magnitude of policy responses, activity in other sectors of the economy, changes in the terms of trade, and any indirect/second-order effects of the drop in sectoral output.
Based on the assumption of complete or partial lockdowns in selected sectors, the immediate impact on any given economy for the duration of the lockdown is estimated to be between 20 and 30% of GDP depending on the structure of economy. For example, Georgia’s economy, which is mostly driven by the services sector, can be expected to contract by around 30%, while economies driven more by extractive (Azerbaijan) and manufacturing sectors (Ukraine) will be confronted with a smaller direct impact of containment measures. However, developments in external markets will add to the impact (e.g. drop in oil prices will have important effects on Azerbaijan).
Google Mobility reports (for Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine) and the Yandex Mobility Index (excluding Ukraine) show how the pandemic is affecting people’s movement in EaP countries. In Georgia and Moldova, the number of visits and time spent at grocery stores and pharmacies declined by over 60% compared to normal during the period of lockdown, and visits to workplaces by over 70%. The Yandex Mobility Index highlighted similar trends in Armenia and Azerbaijan in April. In Belarus, the slowdown was less dramatic, with about a 30% drop in the number of visits to grocery stores and a 20% drop in the number of visits and time spent at workplaces. During the summer, mobility patterns started to return to pre-crisis baselines, but the number of visits to workplaces continued to remain 20% under normal levels in Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
There are several ways in which the COVID-19 crisis affected the business community. On the supply side, the public health crisis and lockdowns caused shortages of labour, as workers felt unwell or had to stay at home with children during the closures of schools. In addition, international and domestic supply-chains were disrupted, causing shortages in intermediate goods. However, more severe and longer-term consequences of the crisis will be felt on the demand side. Lockdowns resulted in a dramatic loss of demand in so-called non-essential sectors, causing liquidity shortages especially to SMEs, which are often undercapitalised. Moreover, recession in all the EaP countries, accompanied by layoffs and higher uncertainty, will likely result in lower consumption and firms’ revenues in the coming months.
Early evidence of this impact is provided by a World Bank Enterprise Survey conducted in June 2020 in four EaP countries. More than 50% of respondent firms reported experiencing decreases in their monthly sales compared to the previous year, ranging from 56% in Belarus to more than 90% in Moldova. Moreover, the volume of sales declines was unprecedented, averaging 57% in the 4 countries covered by the survey (Figure 10). The drop in revenues resulted in layoffs, for example in Georgia where 25% of companies had reduced employment since the outbreak of the crisis (Figure 11).
The impact of the pandemic on international trade will be severe, given partial or complete border closures, restrictions on the movement of goods, labour and even capital, a drop in global demand and disrupted value chains. The contraction of trade and other economic activity in major markets will directly affect smaller economies on the periphery. All EaP economies (except Ukraine) are very trade-dependent (Figure 12), with small domestic markets and a high degree of exposure to macroeconomic trends in their main trading partners, the European Union and Russia. The experience of the 2009 economic crisis showed that a recession in the EU could result in an even sharper slowdown in the EaP region (Figure 13). Therefore, while predictions indicate a less severe recession in the EaP than in EU countries, the impact of spill-over effects is unpredictable and could amplify downside risks in the region. Moreover, FDI, which has been an important source of economic growth and production capacity building in the EaP in the last decade, is expected to decline by over 30% in 2020-21, constraining the region’s post-crisis recovery.
Domestic demand and investment in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are significantly supported by personal remittances from abroad, equivalent to more than 10% of GDP (Figure 14). The economic contraction in the EU, Russia and the USA has resulted in increased unemployment in these economies, which in turn might lead to a surge in returning migrants and reduced inflows of personal remittances to the EaP region. Global remittance outflows are expected to fall by 20% in 2020. Remittance outflows from Russia dropped by over 60% in April, but quickly rebounded already in May, reaching pre-crisis levels (but remaining roughly 20% lower y-to-y). The drop in remittances and personal incomes will result in lower tax revenues, as decreased consumption will cut VAT revenues, in particular, which accounts for 33% of all tax revenues in Armenia, 19% in Azerbaijan, 29% in Belarus, 42% in Georgia, 51% in Moldova, and 41% in Ukraine.
In addition, the COVID-19 crisis has also affected energy markets and has contributed to a sharp decrease in oil and gas prices, both due to an unprecedented drop in global demand and surging supply, mainly due to the price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia early in the year. This will have implications in particular for Azerbaijan where the extractives sector generates around 35% of GDP and over 90% of exports, and for Belarus, where the export of refined petroleum products amount to roughly 20% of GDP.
The combination of widespread informality, high unemployment, low savings rates and heavy reliance on remittances in the EaP region points to the vulnerability of large segments of society to a prolonged economic downturn. Millions of people are likely to experience poverty in EaP countries because of the COVID-19 crisis. For example, according to one study in Ukraine, which defines the actual minimum subsistence level to be USD 115-130 per month (which is higher than the legally defined minimum subsistence level of USD 75), the share of population living below the subsistence level was expected to be 32% this year; instead it is expected to rise to 45%. The combined effects of the economic and public health crises are reversing years of progress in poverty reduction and improvement of living standards. In Armenia, infant mortality rose by 33% y-to-y in the first and 34% in the second quarter of 2020.
Over a quarter of workers in EaP countries are in the sectors most affected by lockdown measures (Figure 15). However, the effect on employment in retail is to a certain extent mitigated by the decision to allow grocery stores and pharmacies to remain open. Overall, low-skilled workers are the most affected by containment measures, because working remotely is rarely an option. This means, inter alia, that confinement measures may have a regressive impact on income distribution. The share of low-skilled workers in total employment range from 6.8% in Georgia to 19.1% in Ukraine, according to ILO statistics.
The prevalence of informal economic activity might exacerbate the socio-economic impact of the crisis and complicate efforts to mitigate it. Armenia, Georgia and Moldova have comparatively large informal sectors. The IMF estimates the size of the informal economies in the EaP region to range from around 30% of GDP in Belarus to 50% of GDP in Georgia, while International Labour Organisation estimates suggest that the informal share of total employment exceeds 20% across the region, rising above 50% in Armenia.
In normal times, the informal economy can act as a buffer against downturns since the demand and supply for the informal sectors are usually relatively unaffected by cyclical downturns. Informal firms tend to have low productivity and informal workers tend to be poorly paid, but the informal sector is often resilient precisely because it is less exposed to financial bubbles and other shocks to the formal economy. However, the current crisis is different, since lockdowns and border closures are particularly harmful to many sectors where informality is prevalent and teleworking is not an option: proximity services, cross-border trade and transport. Since informal workers typically have very low savings, they are less able to cushion the income losses imposed by confinement policies. In many cases, their living conditions (especially those of migrant workers) may make meaningful social distancing impossible anyway, raising the risk of infection. At the same time, informal labour often plays a large role in some essential sectors, like waste disposal, agriculture and freight. Paradoxically, this means that some informal workers may be exempt from confinement measures, which enables them to generate income but also increases their risk of infection. This makes challenges with access to healthcare particularly important.
Providing state support to households and firms that operate in the informal economy can be particularly difficult. While direct cash transfers to the entire workforce may help mitigate the social impact, they would constitute an unrealistically expensive measure for most EaP countries. However, extending some income support where possible should be a priority, as should the extension of access to healthcare services. For those who continue to work on the provision of masks, other measures to ensure health and safety is critical not only to the health of the workers themselves but also to those around them. Finally, there are some forms of tax relief that could help the informal sector: while informal workers and firms may not pay direct taxes or social charges, they often do pay utility fees, market taxes and fees, and taxes affecting the movement of remittances. This is something governments may want to bear in mind when considering the design of tax measures to support SMEs.
Quite apart from informality, some other employment patterns also point to an unusually high number of vulnerable workers in some EaP countries. Around half of those in Azerbaijan and Georgia are own-account workers (self-employed individuals without hired workers) (Figure 16). Many of them rely on seasonal work related to tourism, are severely affected by the containment measures, and have only limited access to traditional forms of income support. The situation in Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine is further exacerbated by high unemployment rates, which put pressure on local social security systems, especially when employment abroad or in the informal sector is no longer a viable option for the majority. In addition, low saving rates, particularly in Armenia, Georgia and Moldova, further undermine the ability of households and individuals to absorb the economic shock related to the pandemic (Figure 17).
Finally, the global economic recession will exacerbate the social situation of migrant workers in or from EaP countries. In total, roughly 16% of the populations of the EaP countries live abroad. Armenia (33% of population) and Moldova (28%) have the region’s largest emigrant populations, according to UN data. Many migrant workers are stranded in foreign countries without work and thus unable to support their families back home. In some cases they may find themselves obliged to return home, while in others they might be unable to leave their host countries. Border closures are particularly harmful to seasonal workers who usually travel abroad during spring to pursue employment related to the agricultural and tourism sectors of the destination countries. Returning migrants may also carry the risk of transmitting the virus from place to place.
Along with public health measures, EaP countries have adopted policies to help ease the negative socio-economic impacts of the pandemic (see Annex A for an overview of containment measures). To help mitigate risk, governments have started providing financial support and stabilisation packages, expanding public borrowing, receiving help from international donors and raising money through the establishment of funds for donations. Measures taken have included providing liquidity to SMEs, encouraging job retention, as well as support for targeted sectors (for example, the tourism sector in Georgia has received tax holidays and loan repayment assistance). Governments have also tried to ease the negative impacts of the pandemic through social policy measures. These include providing support for vulnerable groups (including the elderly and underprivileged) in accessing necessary supplies and working on amendments to labour codes to protect employees. This section outlines selected measures adopted by the EaP governments aimed at supporting their economies during the crisis.
The emergency measures imposed during the pandemic have taken a toll on Armenia’s economy. Real GDP contracted by 6.4% from January to August y-o-y. The EBRD expects growth to decline from 7.6% in 2019 to -5% in 2020 before rebounding to 4% in 2021. During the peak of the lockdown in April 2020, economic activity slowed down by 16.4% compared to the previous year, according to Armstat. Construction (down by 51%) and trade (down by 33%) were hit especially hard. Economic activity started to resume during the summer months, but in August overall economic activity remained 9.8% lower than in the previous year. The volume of trade turnover was down 14.8% y-to-y and services turnover was down 19.3%.
In response to COVID-19, Armenia adopted 25 anti-crisis measures to support households and businesses. As of 10 September, the government had spent AMD 163.4 billion (USD 340 million or 2.5% of GDP), exceeding the initially approved AMD 150 billion (approx. USD 313 million) support package.
Measures to support enterprises include efforts to mitigate liquidity risks by co-financing and refinancing loans, as well as interest rate subsidies. Businesses can apply for loans with preferential conditions to pay for salaries, equipment, food imports and raw materials, as well as taxes, duties and utilities. The maximum amount of the financial package for single businesses has amounted to AMD 500 million (approx. USD 1 million). An additional programme was introduced for SMEs in tourism, agriculture, food and manufacturing, allowing them to obtain loans of AMD 2.5 to 50 million with a six-month grace period and no interest during the first two years, though a 12% rate would be applied during the third year. By mid-May, loan applications worth USD 17 million had been approved for 744 entities. Further sector-specific measures were adopted: agricultural entities and co-operative farms benefit from interest rate subsidies and co-financing mechanisms, while grape suppliers and brandy and wine companies can apply for loans with full interest subsidies. For transport companies operating in the tourism sector, the state will cover 75% of the interest unpaid since April 2020 on existing loans until March 2021. Moreover, the government is fostering entrepreneurship through one-time grants in the IT sector and interest-free loans to help individuals launch their business.
Armenia also encouraged job retention through wage subsidies: businesses with 2 to 50 employees received one-time grants to cover the salaries of every fifth employee (for businesses with less than five employees, the amount of the support equals the monthly payroll fund divided by the number of employees). A similar measure was implemented in May for businesses with up to 100 employees, provided that they had maintained employment since February. Tourism-related enterprises that have maintained over 70% of their staff or 25% of payroll will benefit from wage subsidies for every third employee for a period of nine months.
Armenia has also introduced social support measures, such as one-time payments worth AMD 68,000 (approx. USD 140) for citizens with limited income who lost their jobs between mid-March and 1 June. Further financial assistance was introduced for pregnant women, low-income families, students, and individuals working in sectors particularly affected by the crisis (incl. hospitality, tourism and retail). The government has approved an additional assistance package to create 1,000 temporary jobs in the agriculture sector.
On 13 April, the government started re-opening the economy by allowing certain sectors to resume operations, including manufacturing and construction activities. A week later, wholesale and retail trade, information and communication services, and professional and administrative activities were resumed. In May, restrictions on the freedom of movement were lifted, restaurants and bars, parks, salons and public transport reopened. However, the state of emergency remained in force until 11 September. It was then replaced by a nationwide quarantine regime that is to last until 11 January 2021, which allows the authorities to continue enforcing safety measures and restrictions.
Azerbaijan’s economy has been severely affected by both containment measures and the decline in global oil prices. The EBRD expects GDP to contract by 2% in 2020 and, according to IMF estimates, the current account balance is expected to swing from a surplus equivalent to 9.2% of GDP to a deficit of 8.2%. According to government officials, the economy was losing AZN 120-150 million (USD 70.7-88.4 million) per day at the height of containment measures in April. In January-August 2020, Azerbaijan’s GDP decreased by 3% compared to previous year, according to Azerbaijan’s State Statistical Committee. The economic downturn was exacerbated by the fall in global commodity prices as the value added in the oil sector decreased by 4.9% compared to 1.7% in rest of the economy. Foreign trade turnover decreased in real terms by 22.5% (imports down by 43.4%, exports down by 7.1%) in January-July 2020 compared to the first half of 2019. The loss of revenues put pressure on Azerbaijan’s public finances as Azerbaijan is the only EaP country maintaining a fixed exchange rate. In the first and second quarter, the country spent USD 2.8 billion from the projected revenues of SOFAZ (the State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan), which were expected to reach USD 7.3 billion, while its financial sector has revealed liquidity and financial sustainability challenges.
Azerbaijan has introduced a broad economic support package worth up to AZN 3.3 billion (approx. USD 2 billion or 4% of GDP).
While targeting sectors that were expected to be hit the hardest (including tourism), the government sought to cover tax breaks for businesses, support mortgage borrowers and transport companies, and assist with utility payments. Businesses can also apply for state guarantees for 60% of the loan amount and 50% interest rate subsidies for selected new loans, along with interest rate subsidies worth 10% of interest expenses for existing loans during one year. As of 17 September, 253 loans worth AZN 52.6 million (USD 31 million) had been approved.
Azerbaijan also amended its Tax Code on 2 June and introduced temporary tax benefits and holidays to minimize negative effects on businesses. Measures have included the elimination of land and property taxes for a year and reductions in profit tax and social security contributions for businesses that have been particularly impacted by the pandemic. The government also sought to provide financial assistance for individual entrepreneurs, as well as for business owners, to help pay wages through an online platform by transferring funds directly to their bank accounts. By the end of July, over 100,000 micro-entrepreneurs had received AZN 63.55 million (USD 37.4 million), while appeals for almost 30,000 entrepreneurs were approved to help pay salaries in a total amount of almost AZN 98 million (USD 57.7 million). Additional financial support amounting to a monthly wage fund was provided in August for entrepreneurs who had maintained jobs. In addition, the Small and Medium Business development Agency started holding online workshops for entrepreneurs facing economic hardship due to the pandemic as part of raising awareness and providing information regarding the available support measures.
Social support programmes have reportedly helped nearly 5 million citizens. Measures have included retaining jobs and wages for 1.6 million employees in the public and private sectors, and social security payments for 2 million individuals. The government also distributed a lump-sum payment to 600 000 low-income individuals between April and May and in August, while further measures were adopted to provide unemployment insurance to 20,000 new beneficiaries and food assistance, create 50,000 jobs in the public sector, and cover utility bills and tuition fees for students from vulnerable groups.
In combatting the spread of COVID-19, Azerbaijan imposed a “Special Quarantine” on 24 March, which was extended several times and is to remain in force until at least 2 November. Along with prohibition of large gatherings and restrictions on travel, stores, shopping centres and restaurants were initially shut and public events were cancelled or postponed. Moreover, those over the age of 65 were not allowed to leave their homes, and those permitted needed to alert the authorities before doing so. In late April/beginning of May, Azerbaijan started lifting some restrictions, allowing services to resume and salons and stores (except those located in shopping centres) to reopen and citizens to travel between cities and districts. Measures were tightened again during the summer (including movement restrictions, closure of entertainment facilities in big cities, closure of borders), in response to the increase in cases. They were gradually relaxed throughout August except in Baku, Sumgait and Absheron, which remain in the “strict quarantine regime zone”. Land and air traffic in and out of the country are still closed, until at least November 2020. The geo-political situation is also pushing authorities to introduce ad-hoc restrictions to movement in response to rapidly evolving circumstances.
Belstat data for the first half of 2020 show a 1.7% drop in GDP, year on year, driven by substantial contractions in foreign trade (19.2%) and transport (7.8% decrease in freight volume). Positively, the turnover of industrial production in real prices increased by 15.4% and agricultural production by 7.9% in January-August y-to-y. Regarding overall economic activity, EBRD forecasts a drop of 3.5% in real GDP this year, followed by a rebound of 1% in 2021. The slowdown in economic activity has not yet been reflected in rising unemployment. The first quarter unemployment rate stood at 4.1%, slightly lower than in 2019 (4.3%). However, the number of terminations of employment contracts outpaced the number of new hires by over 9000. Arts, sports, entertainment and recreation were most affected, with over 1800 more layoffs than new hires. The data likely understate the impact on employment, since they exclude micro and small enterprises. BEROC (2020) estimates that up to 114,000 employees of micro- and small enterprises risk losing their jobs. However, the overall effect on employment is mitigated by the structure of the Belarusian labour market, where over half of all workers enjoy relatively secure employment in state-owned enterprises. Recent firm surveys show that 90% of SMEs do not have operating assets and can only survive up to two months under the conditions of reduced demand. The economic impact of the crisis will likely be compounded by Russia’s decision to cut energy subsidies to Belarus and by the political instability following the presidential election in August 2020.
Regardless of their assessment of the public health risks of COVID-19 spreading in Belarus, the authorities are well aware that the country must absorb the economic shock of the crisis. At the end of April, the government estimated its overall support package, both direct and indirect, at a total amount of BYN 5 to 6 billion (USD 1.9 to 2.3 billion), i.e. 3-4% of annual GDP.
To support the economy in view of the pandemic, a decree adopted on 24 April introduced measures targeting the most affected sectors: it notably foresees payment holidays and instalments, rent payment holidays and the possibility for municipal authorities to reduce property taxes. Public procurement procedures have also been temporarily simplified. As of 2 October, 47,000 entities and individual entrepreneurs had reportedly benefited from the tax reliefs in the amount of BYN 34 million (USD 13 million), while about 8 000 rent holidays worth over BYN 30 billon (USD 11.45 million) had been approved. In addition, state banks provided state-guaranteed loans of BYN 700 million (USD 267 million) in total to over 50 businesses. The National Bank has also asked commercial banks to delay loan and interest payments for citizens as their incomes have been affected by COVID-19, and not to raise interest fees. It relaxed certain prudential requirements, reduced the value of the capital conservation buffer to 2 percentage points and lowered the liquidity coverage ratio from 100% to 80% on 22 April, and cut its refinancing rate twice (in May and July), from 8.75% to 7.75%.
Further measures were implemented to support employees. Belarus initially decreed that those unable to return from abroad or work under self-quarantine are entitled to keep their jobs and are entitled to at least two-thirds of their salary. At the end of May, the state also offered subsidies to help maintain salaries of employees whose working hours had been reduced between May and July, and to pay dues to the state social security fund. Moreover, temporary incapacity benefits were provided to persons taking care of children, if the latter were in contact with a COVID-19 infected patient.
Regarding price increases, the initial resolution of the Council of Ministers preventing price rises for goods and services from exceeding 0.5% monthly was withdrawn. The Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade passed a decree on 15 April, enabling the State to regulate prices for 26 essential products (mainly food and sanitary products) by limiting profitability and mark-ups on these items. This measure was extended until end 2020. Low-income citizens were granted the social allowance in August even if their rights were to expire in May-July.
Although Belarus did not introduced any strict lockdown regime, the authorities took some containment measures in response to the pandemic, restricting international travels and setting self-isolation rules for citizens and foreigners tested positive to the virus, as well as for first- and second-level contacts. School holidays were extended by two weeks, but classes resumed on April 20. Further steps were taken by the city of Minsk. However, mass events were maintained. Re-opening measures were introduced mid-June, but central and local authorities still recommend observing physical distancing and sanitary measures. The self-isolation period should be reduced to ten days in October.
The state of emergency and lockdown measures have brought a severe slowdown to Georgia’s economy. In January and February 2020, GDP growth amounted to 3.7% year-on-year, with positive trends across wholesale and retail trade, real estate, accommodation and food services. However, considering the impact of the measures introduced due to COVID-19, the EBRD expects GDP to fall by 5% this year followed by a recovery of 3.5% next year. More than any other EaP country, Georgia has been hurt by the slowdown in tourism flows as the sector contributes to almost 10% of the country’s GDP. The number of visitors in the first quarter of 2020 fell by 15% compared to the previous year and by 94% in the second quarter. At the same time, the per capita expenditure by foreign visitors fell by 13% already in the first quarter of 2020 as tourism flows from EU countries and Russia came to a sudden halt and most remaining visitors came from Armenia and Turkey, staying for shorter periods of time and spending less. Foreign trade was also severely disrupted: the value of Georgia’s exports fell by 5.7% in the first quarter of 2020 and by 24.7% in the second quarter compared to the previous year. The value of imports fell by 3.7% in first and 30.4% in the second quarter. The impact of the COVID-19 crisis on industrial production is less severe: on current trajectory (not seasonally adjusted), the turnover of industrial production is expected to be 6.8% lower this year compared to 2019. However, SMEs are disproportionately affected as their turnover is expected to decrease by 38%.
The government has committed GEL 3.55 billion (approx. USD 1.1 billion or 7.1%) to help the economy weather the impact of the pandemic. On 24 April, the government presented an anti-crisis package focusing on providing social support (GEL 1.04 billion), stimulating economic growth (GEL 2.11 billion) and strengthening the healthcare system (GEL 350 million) to fight the pandemic. Sector-specific plans were introduced, notably for tourism, agriculture and construction, and additional measures were announced on 6 August.
The central bank has introduced measures to promote liquidity, while commercial banks have allowed borrowers to postpone loan repayments by up to three months and restructured loans for businesses and individuals struggling with loan repayments. The volume of VAT returns in the private sector was doubled to GEL 1.2 billion (USD 374.4 million) to supply firms with working capital. To further support access to finance, the credit guarantee scheme was increased by GEL 330 million, securing a GEL 2 billion credit portfolio with a 90% guarantee on new loans and 30% on restructuring. Moreover, businesses benefit from improved co-financing conditions on loans/leasing and from a micro-grant system, while further funds were allocated to the agro-credit programme. Additional measures have been implemented for sectors that have been particularly affected by the pandemic, such as property and income tax deferrals for the tourism sector, and up to 80% interest subsidies on pre-existing loans for small hotels. Reclamation debts from 2012 onwards will be written off for individuals and entities, and irrigation tax in 2020 will be exempted.
In addition, the government offered state subsidies to employers who retained jobs through income tax exemptions worth GEL 250 million (USD 77 million), as well as lump-sum payments to 250 000 self-employed.
The anti-crisis package also provides for targeted social assistance: an estimated 350 000 individuals who lost their jobs or are on unpaid leave are receiving a monthly allowance of GEL 200 during six months. Financial support is granted to low-income families and vulnerable groups, pensions were increased, and will be indexed to the inflation rate starting from January 2021. Further measures have included utility bill and food price subsidies.
Georgia introduced a state of emergency on 21 March, when significant social distancing measures were adopted. Along with restricting the movement of people and modifying public services, educational establishments and shops (except for grocery stores and pharmacies) were closed, intercity transport was restricted, and a curfew was imposed. The government organised a gradual re-opening of the economy in six stages starting on 27 April, with two week intervals between each stage, but the steady decrease in the number of infections allowed for shorter intervals. During the first two stages, restrictions were lifted on the movement of people and vehicles, as well as construction and repair services. Over the following weeks, markets and shops gradually reopened, followed by malls, restaurants, and financial services. Hotels reopened one month earlier than planned, and domestic tourism resumed on 15 June. Despite the recent surge in the number of cases, the government has ruled out the possibility of a new nationwide lockdown.
The EBRD expects GDP to contract by 5.5% in 2020 before growing 3.5% in 2021. According to Moldova’s National Bureau of Statistics, in January-June 2020, GDP contracted by 7.2%. Industrial production fell 6.9%, agricultural production 2.8% and freight volumes 14.8% during the same period. The economic downturn has had a strong negative impact on investment, which decreased by 14.9%. Retail, real estate, and construction play a significant role in the Moldovan economy, making it one of the EaP economies most exposed to the effects of lockdown measures. External demand will be affected due to Moldova’s close trade links with EU countries, which are likely to result in reduced exports, remittances, and financial inflows. In January-June, Moldova’s exports decreased by 14% and imports by 14.8% y-to-y. Moreover, public finances are facing additional pressures, considering the fall in tax and customs revenues and the sharp increase in public spending to support the healthcare system and social assistance programmes.
In order to finance a range of measures to tackle the impact of the pandemic, the government amended its 2020 budget law. In April, the authorities announced that LEU 3.2 billion (USD 190 million) would be allocated to support the economy, businesses and households, including LEU 1.06 billion (USD 63 million) for social insurance and unemployment benefits. But the measures planned as of October reportedly amount to over LEU 4.4 billion (USD 260 million, or 2.1% of GDP).
To help entrepreneurs overcome cash-flow problems, the following measures were adopted: suspension of the audit obligation of individual financial statements for 2019 for some enterprises (with the exception of public entities); postponement of the deadline for payments of income tax of legal entities; introduction of a moratorium on all inspections until 1 June; reduction in VAT from 20 to 15% for the food and accommodation sector as of 1 May; increase of state budget allocations to the emergency fund by LEU 452 million (USD 26.8 million) and to a mortgage guarantee program. Banks were also incentivised to delay payment deadlines and/or the amounts of due payments on loans. In case of loans contracted by economic agents to pay for salaries or for operating assets, the state covers bank interests up to six months payroll. Moreover, on 23 April, a draft law was approved, providing for the implementation of an Interest Grant Programme facilitating businesses’ access to credit until end 2020, and a VAT Refund Programme of LEU 1 billion (USD 59 million). Up to LEI 100 million (approx. USD 5.9 million) was allocated to support entrepreneurs: these funds will notably finance grants for women entrepreneurs, ranging from LEU 165,000 to LEU 1.6 million (respectively USD 9.8 thousand and 95 thousands), to purchase IT equipment. Further measures, including direct financial assistance and increased insurance subsidies, were implemented for the agriculture sector, which is undergoing a severe crisis this year due to both the pandemic and adverse climatic conditions.
The government has also assisted businesses that have suspended their activities (fully or partially) by refunding personal income taxes and social security contributions up to 100%. Those that had to stop their operations due to decision of authorities receive a subsidy amounting to 100% of their income tax, social security and health contributions, and other compulsory state payments. This measure was extended several times, until 30 September. Some public sector employees who contracted the virus received a one-time allowance of LEU 16,000 (USD 950).
In addition, social support measures were introduced. Persons who have worked for at least nine months at one enterprise and have lost their jobs were paid from 60 to 80% of their final salary. Overall, the volume of the unemployment fund was increased roughly six-fold to notably entitle non-beneficiaries – including labour migrants who returned to Moldova after losing their job abroad – to a one-off allowance. The minimum income guaranteed for low-income families was increased in April, and an additional LEU 900 was distributed to an estimated 660,000 pensioners and low-income individuals in October. Pensions as well as the minimum guaranteed income will be indexed on the inflation rate twice a year.
In order to ease liquidity conditions and enhance financial resilience, the National Bank of Moldova (NBM) cut the base rate applied to the main short-term monetary policy operations to 3.25%.
Moldova declared state of emergency on 17 March for two months, restricting movement of people and asking public venues to halt their activities. The National Commission on Emergency Situations started softening confinement measures at the end of April, allowing citizens to access parks and several retail trade activities to resume. Markets reopened on 11 May (on 1 June in Chișinău and Balti), as well as several public services of the Public Services Agency. On 15 May, the National State of Emergency was replaced by a National Public Health Emergency, which lasted until 30 September. Restaurants, cafes, hotels and fitness centres were allowed to resume operations in June, provided that they observed public health measures. Starting from 1 October, districts are classified according to a colour code based on their epidemiological situation. Local authorities can enact adapted measures on this basis, and re-implement stricter restrictions in high-risk/red zones (over 100 new cases per 100 000 inhabitants in the past two weeks).
The EBRD forecasts a 5.5% fall in Ukraine’s GDP in 2020 followed by a rebound of 3% in 2021. The lockdown measures imposed during COVID-19 have significantly slowed economic activity in Ukraine. In March, turnover in passenger transport dropped by 16.3% compared to the previous year, while industrial production shrank by 8.6% and manufacturing by 9.9%, according to the State Statistics Committee of Ukraine. However, the decreases in output largely reflect the poor performance of the sector over preceding months, as production figures in March were slightly higher than in February. Overall, in the second quarter of 2020, Ukraine’s real GDP shrunk by 11.4%. In January-August 2020, industrial production decreased 7.4% y-to-y, agricultural production 9.8%. Foreign trade volumes quickly slowed down in April as border closures started to take their effect. In July, the volume of exports remained 7.4% and imports 14.7% lower than in the previous year.
The economic slowdown has already caused a significant depreciation of the hryvnia in relation to the USD and euro and put pressure on Ukraine’s public finances. Ukraine was already facing large foreign debt repayments in 2020, and negotiations with the IMF stalled over issues including banking and land reform. Limited availability of social security benefits and low domestic savings provided further challenges for authorities to absorb exogenous shocks. On 30 March, officials projected a 4.8% drop in GDP due to the pandemic. In early May, Ukraine recorded a rise in unemployment as 156 000 new people were listed unemployed, a rise of 48% compared to the previous year. At the same time, the number of new vacancies decreased by 60%. In the second quarter of 2020, the unemployment rate rose to 9.9%, and real disposable incomes fell 7.3% compared to the previous year.
On 13 April, Ukraine created a UAH 64.7 billion (USD 2.3 billion) Fund to counter COVID-19. The budget was further increased to UAH 66 billion (USD 2.33 billion), of which 42.8% have reportedly been spent as of 5 October.
A comprehensive set of measures has been introduced to support individuals and businesses. No penalties were applied to tax law violations that are committed between 1 March and 31 May 2020, although this exemption did not apply to VAT or excise tax and rent. The deadline for filing annual income declarations has been extended for two months until 1 July 2020, with tax payable by 1 October 2020. In addition, the parliament has suspended the requirement to pay tax on commercial real estate and land; defined COVID-19 quarantine as a force-majeure for legal contracts; postponed the requirement to use registrars for settlement transactions; and suspended tax inspections of companies. Tenants have also been temporarily relieved from paying rent on property that was not used during the quarantine. Entrepreneurs who work independently were offered a temporary exemption from social security contributions in March and April, while fines for incomplete contributions and reporting have been suspended. In September, the Tax Code was amended to cut the VAT rate to 7% for culture, tourism and creative industries, as these sectors can hardly shift to online mode.
In addition, Ukraine has introduced policies to provide targeted financial support for small and medium-sized enterprises. State-owned PrivatBank (the country’s largest lender) announced a “credit holiday” for medium-sized businesses until the end of May, and credit institutions were prohibited from raising interest rates on loans that have already been issued. To further facilitate access to finance, the government’s ‘5-7-9%’ initiative was reformatted to help SMEs refinance existing loans and retain their employees, allowing them to borrow up to USD 110 000. As of 23 September, 3,506 loans totalling UAH 8.5 billion (USD 300 million) had been issued within this programme, mostly in the agriculture sector (60%). In addition, a new initiative was announced, providing loans of maximum UAH 5 billion at 0% interest rate, with an 80% state guarantee. Moreover, the National Bank of Ukraine has continued to intervene in the foreign exchange market to support the local currency, while reducing interest rates to 8%.
Legislation was passed in March enabling businesses to adopt more flexible working hours. SMEs that have been forced to suspend their activities during the quarantine are being offered the opportunity to apply for a partial unemployment allowance programme, under which for each hour of lost work time, the company receives two-thirds of the salary rate (the aid must not exceed the minimum wage – UAH 4 723). By the end of August, over 85% of the UAH 2.7 billion (USD 95 million) allocated for this measure had been spent for 370 000 beneficiaries. Other elements include child assistance for individual entrepreneurs.
Along with supporting businesses, the government has introduced social support measures, including subsidising utility bill payments for vulnerable groups, increasing the minimum amount of unemployment benefits by almost 54% as well as pensions, introducing legal grounds to claim unemployment benefits, and offering mortgages at more affordable rates.
On 12 March, Ukraine imposed a nationwide quarantine. While closing educational institutions, restaurants, recreational areas and entertainment venues, wearing a mask in public became mandatory and access to public transport became limited. However, on 8 April employees were exempt from self-isolation in selected sectors, including construction, postal and essential services, and government. The government started relaxing some measures on 11 May, reopening outdoor restaurants and recreational spaces, while gradually allowing salons, non-food stores, museums, notaries and other service providers to resume their activities. Hotels, public transportation in large cities and kindergarten reopened towards the end of May. The country switched to an ‘adaptive quarantine regime’ on 22 May, which remains in force until 31 October. Restrictions are now adopted locally, depending on each region’s epidemiological situation. Businesses are encouraged to adapt their working hours to reduce the number of people in public transport during peak time.
The COVID-19 crisis provides strong incentives for countries to accelerate digitalisation, as the measures to contain the pandemic have prompted government and businesses to move more of their operations and services online. Governments can leverage digital technologies to improve the quality and accessibility of business services, streamline administrative procedures, and strengthen the delivery of social protection programmes. Businesses are also undertaking increasing efforts to maintain their operations by exploring online-based business models and offering enhanced teleworking opportunities for their employees (Figure 19). Between 27% and 38% of surveyed companies in selected EaP countries report having intensified their online business activity (e.g. sales) in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, while up to 45% of firms (Georgia) have introduced solutions to make remote work possible.
The development of digital services varies significantly across EaP countries (Figure 20). Internet penetration ranges from 63% of the population in Georgia and Ukraine to 80% in Azerbaijan. Fixed broadband subscriptions are below the OECD average in all EaP countries except Belarus.
Prices for fixed broadband and mobile cellular subscriptions across the EaP region are generally low compared to the OECD average, but a comparison in terms of percentage of GNI per capita highlights their lower affordability in some countries (Figure 21). In fact, a recent survey conducted by the World Bank found that in addition to lack of access to digital infrastructure, many households report high costs of digital devices and high access fees as impediments to digitalisation.
All six countries participate in EU4Digital, an initiative that aims to extend the European Union’s Digital Single Market to the EaP region.
Digitalisation of public services can significantly improve the business environment, as time and costs of administrative procedures decrease, information can be disseminated more effectively and service delivery becomes more predictable. The removal of physical interactions also lessens opportunities for corruption, with integrated e-payment platforms allowing businesses to pay fees directly and avoid the risk of graft.
E-government services are available in all EaP countries, though the range and quality of services varies. All EaP countries have developed multi-year strategies and shorter-term action plans to promote digital services. The e-Government Development Index measures the readiness and capacity of national institutions to use ICTs to deliver public services. Figure 22 shows that Belarus is in the best position to leverage digitalisation for the delivery of public services, followed by Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine. The e-Participation Index measures the extent of online information availability, online public consultations, and citizens’ involvement in decision processes. Ukraine and Moldova lead the way in terms of civic engagement and participatory governance through ICTs, as demonstrated by the high scores of the e-Participation Index in Figure 23. The low scores of Azerbaijan and Georgia suggest a need to enhance citizens’ engagement in decision-making and service delivery through ICTs.
In Armenia, the range of e-government services includes online filing of tax returns and social security contributions. It is possible to apply online to receive benefits aimed at neutralizing the economic consequences of coronavirus. A series of training sessions titled “Developing business through digitalisation” have been introduced, aiming to support SMEs in their efforts to address the COVID-19 challenges.
Azerbaijan has successfully built a well-designed e-government system in a relatively short period. In response to the COVID-19 crisis, the government set up a website to inform citizens about the containment measures, and to provide access to digital services such as online education, e-health, and entertainment.
In Belarus, e-government services include tax and social security filing, pension and social contributions. It is developing an online platform on which every citizen will have a personal electronic account through which to access information and perform administrative procedures.
In Georgia, the e-government platform serves as a one-stop shop for a wide range of services to support enterprises. GITA is planning to launch a hackathon open to all EaP countries. There are online platforms to co-ordinate the prevention and support activities during the COVID-19 crisis (e.g., a citizen-led platform where one can register as a volunteer for different types of assistance).
In Moldova, taxes and fees can be paid online, and there is a transparent public procurement e-system. The government stepped up its support to women’s entrepreneurship and digitalisation by offering grants for the purchase of technological equipment and machinery, software solutions and consulting.
In Ukraine, the government has launched an E-Governance action plan for 2018-2020 and established the Ministry for Digital Transformation in charge of designing and implementing the state policy on digitalisation. The government is regulating and monitoring emergency procurement via open contracting data on ProZorro, the public e-procurement system. Since March 2020, entrepreneurs can learn at online-events of the Business Information Support Centres (BISCs) and Merezha online platform.
The sweeping economic impact of the crisis calls for comprehensive measures that encompass fiscal stimulus, monetary, tax, employment and education policies, and targeted measures that focus particularly on supporting micro, small and medium firms through the crisis. The health crisis will eventually pass, but the nature of the economic shock depends to a great extent on the policy response. It could be transitory if countries around the world are successful in limiting the rise in mass unemployment, bankruptcies and vulnerabilities in the financial sector so as to curtail the long-term effects of the crisis.
Broadly speaking, the measures adopted by EaP countries are aligned with those taken across the globe to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on SMEs, which across the OECD, represent the most common type of firm and the largest source of employment. The main exception to this generalisation perhaps concerns labour market policies. While many OECD countries have acted to provide greater flexibility and relief for companies and workers in the reduction of working hours, temporary lay-offs and sick-leave, such measures have been less prominent (though by no means absent) in the EaP region, apart from Ukraine. To some extent, this may reflect the higher incidence of informal employment in some EaP countries and the fact that SMEs in the region are de facto (if not always de jure) subject to less stringent regulation of labour relations. It may also reflect general concerns regarding the fiscal space and flexibility to more readily enable similar mechanisms.
In the short term (here considered to be Q2 and Q3 2020), avoiding the failure of viable businesses is the critical priority. SME support needs to be channelled quickly and in a cost-effective way to provide liquidity to viable firms, particularly in sectors that are more acutely affected by the COVID-19 restrictions. These may include measures, such as direct grants and loan guarantees, as well as loan repayment deferrals and commitments to cover a portion of SME payrolls for a limited period to support the sector and mitigate the potential for broader lay-offs. In countries with available room for manoeuvre, governments are also employing fiscal tools, which can have a fairly immediate impact on working capital. A common mechanism is to delay or eliminate social security or tax contribution requirements during the crisis. As noted above, digitalisation of government services offers a way to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Effective e-government tools can play a vital role in allowing firms to identify and access relevant support quickly. For example, the United Kingdom has launched a dedicated information portal, where firms are asked simple questions about their characteristics and shown all of the support measures for which they are eligible.
The most common approach across the EaP region has been ensuring the availability of loans and short term financing to facilitate SMEs’ transition during this period. This is in line with what is being implemented across the OECD. Georgia’s enterprise support agency, Enterprise Georgia, has started a new programme to co-finance family-owned, small and medium-sized hotels in Georgia, which have been acutely affected by the crisis. Banks’ ability to provide credit is constrained by short-term deposits, but in the case of closed funds, the funds are committed for the long term and can help mobilise institutional investors to provide resources to companies as an additional source of credit at a time when many firms face liquidity constraints. The biggest challenge is for the funds to successfully recruit new investors at the time of financial uncertainty, but governments can play a facilitating role by setting up dedicated funds. In January 2020, for instance, Ukraine’s parliament approved the creation of the Entrepreneurship Development Fund to expand and facilitate lending for SMEs. As a result of the crisis, Ukraine expanded its programme to facilitate affordable loans at a discounted interest rate for businesses.
Some OECD countries have adopted targeted grants aimed at SMEs. For example, Australia is offering a grant of approximately USD 10 000 to firms with a turnover between USD 600 000 and 2.5 million. Grants can be particularly helpful to the most vulnerable firms and entrepreneurs who can be discouraged from seeking loan financing even at highly favourable rates and repayment plans because of fears of long-term financial insecurity and/or low margins.
Grants may be particularly important for start-ups and young firms. International evidence strongly suggests that such firms are the most vulnerable in a crisis and – perversely – that market selection often functions badly in response to a major shock. Well-performing young firms often fail where less productive older firms survive. During the great recession just over a decade ago, for example, in some OECD countries, the youngest firms and those with a lower level of financial exposure performed better and yet were less likely to survive. This reflects the fact that the latter are more likely to have long-established relationships with suppliers, banks and the public authorities and are therefore more likely to benefit from forbearance in respect of payments, regulatory compliance, etc. Policy-makers should take care to ensure that the design of support measures does not reinforce the biases that in any case arise from the existence of such “relational capital”.
EaP governments must balance between inclusive support measures that encompass a large number of firms and targeted measures that concentrate the support on the most struggling firms. Spreading out the support measures too widely risks diluting its effectiveness, while overly narrow eligibility criteria can make the access to support cumbersome and deter firms from seeking vital financial assistance. One way to balance between inclusivity and intensity is to target the support specifically at micro- and small enterprises. Austria has decided to distribute “hardship” grants to the self-employed and micro-firms, which are eligible for subsidies up to EUR 6,000 for three months per entity. The grants can also be targeted to firms in the worse affected areas of the country, as Romania has done. Additionally, sector-specific grants allow to target firms in the most affected sectors, e.g. tourism.
Measures such as loan guarantees play a prominent role in governments’ policy responses because they represent a fast way to incentivise banks to accommodate the liquidity needs faced by firms during the COVID-19 crisis. Credit guarantees mitigate credit risks for the issuing banks, enabling easier access to finance for firms that could otherwise face rejection because of perceived risks or inability to provide sufficient collateral. To a certain extent, such schemes are already implemented in Azerbaijan and Georgia.
Credit guarantee schemes implemented by OECD countries usually cover between 70 and 90% of the loan value (e.g. France, Spain), and are provided through private banks. While such schemes have already proven useful and efficient, micro companies that do not have credit histories and face urgent shortages in working capital might not be able to access them, or the approval process might be too lengthy, jeopardising their commercial viability. To address this issue, some OECD countries have introduced schemes providing guarantees covering 100% of the loan. For example, in the United Kingdom, the government provides 100% guarantees on the loans up to £50 000 provided to micro companies. While such comprehensive guarantees can significantly expedite SME access to external financing, they might result in providing loans to non-viable companies. It is therefore recommended to set clear eligibility criteria and provide loans only to firms meeting basic solvency requirements (e.g., not in default at the time the COVID-19 crisis hit).
Where the banking system is used to access firms in need of support, through credit guarantees or other instruments, it will be critical to pay close attention to the incentives confronting the banks themselves. While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions based on the experiences of OECD countries, the early evidence from loan guarantee programmes designed to support small firms that maintain employment underscores the difficulty – and importance – of effective targeting. In particular, banks in the worst-affected areas may be less inclined than banks elsewhere to participate in such programmes – either because the risks in the most adversely affected places are perceived to be greater or because the banks themselves are weaker in such areas. Either way, support may end up flowing primarily to areas that need it least. This will be a particularly important consideration in countries where the fragility of the banking sector may itself be an issue.
As countries transition out of lockdown phases, the generosity of credit guarantees should gradually be decreased and be contingent on the performance of the economy, with lower coverage as macroeconomic conditions and sector-specific risks normalise. In addition, firms could be offered the option to convert state-guaranteed loans into quasi equity in return for higher corporate income taxes to be paid for a given period in the future. This would lower debt liabilities on firms’ balance sheets, improve their viability as operating businesses and ultimately lower the risk of insolvency. Such a design would particularly help SMEs, which have been hit hardest by the pandemic, and thus maintain a level of competition in the economy that would otherwise be at risk in case of mass bankruptcies.
Across the region, governments are also taking steps to provide working capital support, e.g. through fiscal measures such as, for example, Georgia’s four-month tax holiday for firms in the tourism sector or the deferral of tax payments currently being prepared by Moldova’s Emergency Situations Commission. Deferrals of corporate tax and social security contributions are also being introduced by OECD members like Turkey, Canada and Denmark. They offer the advantage of providing relatively quick support to SMEs through immediate deferrals and assistance that does not depend on applications or business risk assessments in the same way a loan or grant programme might. However, deferrals that focus on corporate income or profit taxes might have only a small impact on new or struggling firms. In addition, many governments have introduced measures such as short-time work, which not only help entrepreneurs to alleviate immediate payroll burdens but also help SME employees retain part of their salaries.
EaP governments will also need to consider additional medium- and long-term (here, considered to be Q4 of 2020 and beyond) support measures to strengthen SME resilience and recovery from the crisis.
Many companies in EaP countries are encountering financial difficulties because of forgone revenues during government-mandated lockdowns and the generalised drop in demand due to the global contraction. SMEs are likely to be disproportionately affected by this expected spike in insolvencies due to their limited financial reserves and free cash flow. To contain the number of bankruptcies and liquidations of financially distressed but otherwise viable companies, EaP governments could consider strengthening their legal and policy frameworks to deal with potential insolvencies. In particular,
Early warning mechanisms. Viable business likely to face severe liquidity shortages will benefit from early-warning mechanisms such as self-tests and training courses for entrepreneurs that fear failure, as well as advisory services assessing the economic situation of a company, its future prospects, and options to support a turn-around.
Preventive restructuring frameworks Well-developed restructuring frameworks will also help entrepreneurs avoid bankruptcy by favouring out-of-court reorganisation and thus enabling them to continue operations. Enabling factors would be i) an increased involvement of banks in the initial decision about whether to restructure or liquidate a company and ii) the state shaping incentives by accepting a haircut on its claims (e.g. taxes) that is higher than the bank’s, in order to avoid bankruptcy and pay for the social value of keeping the firm alive.
Second chance policies. Should an honest entrepreneur be unable to restructure its firm’s liabilities and thus face bankruptcy, policies can be introduced to favour entrepreneurial second chance. These include setting a reasonably short debt-discharge period, eliminating discriminatory provisions against re-starters (for instance in accessing new finance), and providing dedicated guidelines and trainings.
The eventual recovery is likely to be gradual and uneven. With the threats from climate change and environmental degradation looming, governments need to design policy responses to strengthen the long-term resilience of their economies and societies to future shocks. EaP governments could consider fiscal policy tools to increase competitiveness and long-term demand, while ensuring that stimulus measures are aligned with environmental priorities and social equity goals.
Boost investments in sustainable infrastructure: For example, in most EaP countries the levels of infrastructure investment are comparatively low. Globally, to maintain existing infrastructures and meet future needs, most countries should invest around 5-7% of GDP in infrastructure sectors. In the early 2010s, infrastructure investment appears to have fallen below these levels, except in Armenia and Azerbaijan, with infrastructure investment just over 5% of GDP. Georgia was close to the 5% threshold, while Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine all fell below 3%. Infrastructure investments would offer one way to address longstanding funding gaps, while supporting the medium-term demand and long-term competitiveness of the economy and offering sustainable solutions in the face of the global environmental challenges. However, the risk of spending scarce resources on “white elephants” is real. In many instances, reforms to governance, project-selection and -approval processes and investment frameworks may be required to ensure the most efficient selection and execution of infrastructure projects.
Strengthen SMEs’ contribution to the low-carbon transition: SMEs have the potential to be key drivers in the shift to a greener economy, and to be engines of competitiveness and innovation in the process. Policies to support SME greening can improve the efficiency of resource use, enable participation in green supply chains, and contribute to a cleaner environment and improved public health. Financial support measures such as loans, loan guarantees and tax abatements for SMEs can be made conditional on environmental improvements. Regulatory systems should be designed to provide incentives for better environmental performance, by encouraging firms to exceed environmental standards or to self-report issues. EaP governments should provide SMEs with the information they need to adopt green practices, develop new markets through green public procurement, and take measures to improve the business case for SME greening.
Digitalisation offers opportunities for EaP countries to improve public service delivery, increase access to online schooling and telemedicine, and provide SMEs with new ways to reach customers.
Promote affordable, inclusive, and safe access to digital infrastructure and technologies: well-developed digital infrastructure is necessary to minimise the costs of the pandemic and take advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalisation. Governments should explore ways to support the development of digital infrastructure in rural areas, whilst striving to increase their affordability and security. In Italy, the Ministry for Technology Innovation and Digitalisation launched the Digital Solidarity Platform to help citizens and enterprises deal with the disruptions caused by the containment measures. Services are delivered free of charge and range from support for teleworking and online schooling, to connectivity and entertainment.
Reduce administrative barriers by accelerating the implementation of e-government initiatives: the range and efficiency of e-government services could be expanded to meet needs of people and businesses in the short term and, in the long term, to enhance the transparency and efficiency of public administration. Starting from ensuring the coherence of a digital strategy, support for digitalisation should extend to all levels of government, including sub-national administrations in remote and rural areas. Databases run by public institutions should be integrated to ensure access to a comprehensive range of e-government services. In Greece, the Ministry of Digital Governance added a section on its main e-government portal dedicated specifically to the COVID-19 emergency to provide services and information for citizens in a single location.
Support SME digitalisation: governments can support the retraining of employees, encourage increased uptake of teleworking, foster the development of e-commerce and digital platforms to promote trade, and encourage the development of new and innovative business models that leverage digital technologies. Governments can help SMEs to adopt new working processes and speed up digitalisation by ensuring that firms are equipped with adequate IT connections, equipment and ICT skills. As part of the Emergency Economic Measures for Response to COVID-19, the government of Japan supports SMEs by offering subsidies for teleworking, the adoption of IT solutions and the development of e-commerce sales channels.
While the COVID-19 crisis calls for targeted policy responses to weather its negative impact on SMEs, the EaP countries should also speed-up implementation of structural reforms to improve their business environment and promote entrepreneurship. In this respect, creating level-playing-field conditions for all enterprises is crucial and governments could direct their efforts towards promoting fair competition and strengthening the rule of law, as SMEs in the region face challenges when it comes to equal treatment vis-à-vis large companies and SOEs, and weak and lengthy contract enforcement procedures which impede access to justice for SMEs.
Building on solid progress achieved in the implementation of SME-friendly policies since 2016, the EaP countries should also continue improving institutional and regulatory framework for SMEs, further simplify administrative procedures, and ensure efficient insolvency systems for SMEs.
Based on the measures being implemented across the region and in line with the approach currently being adopted by OECD member countries, EaP policy makers might wish to consider the following policy guidance from the OECD in response to COVID-19. The guidance is broad but these basic principles can form a useful framework for assessing potential measures:
Supporting SMEs: Supporting SMEs in response to COVID-19 requires fast and well co-ordinated support that combines financial measures, including from central banks; labour policy; tax policy; and the private sector. This is not a matter for “SME policy” narrowly construed: rather, it is a test for governments’ ability and willingness to apply the “think small” principle across all areas of economic and social policy, looking for ways to assess their impact on start-ups and SMEs.
Employment policy: Policies should aim both to protect workers from exposure to the disease at workplace, while at the same time ensuring workers’ access to income support. A number of countries have adopted legislation that allows struggling firms to cut down working hours, while Japan, for example, is financially supporting SMEs’ capacity for teleworking.
Tourism policy: Tourism is one of the worst-affected sectors of the economy during the crisis. The shock to the global tourism industry could amount to 45-70% of output depending on the severity of the pandemic. Many countries, including in the EaP region, are adopting targeted measures to support tourism industry in their countries.
Urban policyUrban policy: Cities around the world are playing a key role in implementing containment measures. Many have set up information portals and taken measures to support most vulnerable segments of the population during confinement measures. While most cities have limited resources for financial support, many are creating mechanisms to help citizens and entrepreneurs access the support that is available and to mobilise public-private co-operation to support recovery.
Education policy: From an economic perspective, prolonged school closures have the potential to cause significant damage to the development of human capital. Therefore, it is essential for countries to quickly adopt effective distance learning practices that ensure learning and collaboration.
Environmental policy: Support measures should not derail the efforts to tackle the ongoing environmental challenges by loosening environmental regulations during the crisis bearing in mind any potential effects of ambient quality standards on overall health.
On 16 March, the government imposed a state of emergency to help limit the spread of COVID-19, and a wide-ranging lock-down between 24 March and 12 April. Travel and public gatherings were restricted, schools were shut, and the authorities began to regulate the publication of information on medical and epidemiological topics. Although the borders were not closed, citizens were not permitted to leave the country and international travel was banned to/from countries with large numbers of cases. The government also designated a list of entities that could operate, and grocery stores announced separate hours for senior citizens. Self-distancing measures were also introduced, requiring individuals to leave their homes only in exceptional cases. Those violating these measures faced fines and prison sentences. The government declared further restrictions on movement until mid-April, including shutting down public transport between and within municipalities, and passed a surveillance bill. Movement restrictions were lifted in May, and restaurants, bars, parks, salons, and public transportation gradually re-opened, along with kindergarten and pre-schools. Schools and universities resumed courses in September, possibly on-site. The state of emergency was extended several times, and ran until 11 September. A nationwide quarantine regime was then introduced for four months, allowing the authorities to declare lockdowns if deemed necessary, restrict or ban public gatherings, and close the country’s borders. Wearing masks is mandatory in public spaces, and large gatherings are not allowed. Businesses failing to observe safety measures risk being shut down. Non-Armenian citizens can enter the country via air, but entries by land remain restricted.
Following the first case of COVID-19, Azerbaijan closed educational institutions, quarantined those entering through Iran and imposed travel restrictions. However, measures soon became stricter, as the government introduced “Special Quarantine”, which remains in force until 2 November. Gatherings of 10 or more people were prohibited, large stores, shopping centres and restaurants were shut. Individuals over the age of 65 were not allowed to leave their homes, and those permitted had to alert the authorities before doing so. Public events, including the Nowruz Celebrations and Grand Prix, were cancelled or postponed, the exclave of Nakhchivan was isolated, regional and long-distance transport suspended, and traffic restrictions were in force. The criminal code has been amended to impose penalties on those violating emergency measures. The government started lifting measures in May, allowing businesses to re-open and citizens to travel, but reintroduced tighter restrictions in June as cases increased. Complete lockdowns were reinforced in some cities and districts, several establishments (e.g. shopping centres, beauty salons, educational institutions) were closed, and public transport was interrupted. These restrictions were gradually relaxed in August except in Baku, Sumgait and Absheron, where the number of infections remains high. Kindergartens and schools have reopened in the country, but children can only attend in-person twice to three times a week, depending on their age. Universities courses are mostly delivered online. Air and land borders have not yet re-opened. A curfew was introduced by the martial law declared on 28 September following the resumption of large-scale military operations in and around Nagorno-Karabakh.
Belarus did not restrict the movement of people or goods as per WHO recommendations, and the authorities have expressed doubts about school closures to prevent the spread of the virus and questioned the effectiveness of closing borders, while continuing to allow public events, including soccer games and the annual Victory Day parade. School holidays were extended by two weeks, but classes resumed on April 20. However, the Ministry of Health started recommending social distancing measures and asking the elderly to self-isolate in April. In addition, new entrants in the country are systematically quarantined for 14 days – a period to be reduced to 10 days from October on. Citizens who tested positive for the virus have to self-isolate, as do first- and second-level contacts. Additional measures are undertaken by some segments of the public as many firms are switching to telework and some higher-education institutions have moved instruction on line. On 7 April, Minsk adopted a plan to curb the spread of the pandemic. The measures included a ban on mass events, requirements for some customer service workers to wear masks, and a ban on anyone with symptoms of cold to go to work. Restrictions were eased in June, but sanitary measures (wearing a mask and gloves, observing physical distancing, using disinfectant) are still recommended by the public authorities. The City of Minsk also asked some services (e.g. hairdressers, beauty salons) to work by appointment only and encouraged teleworking where possible.
On 21 March, Georgia declared a state of emergency for a month. Significant social prevention measures were adopted, including restrictions on the movement of people and modification of public services. Schools and universities were closed, as well as all shops, except for supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, post offices, and banks. Gatherings of over three people were banned and the government suspended public intercity transport, including busses and railway stations. The government also banned flights and closed borders with highly infected countries, leading to full border closure for foreign visitors, and quarantined those arriving in the country. However, essential economic activities, such as utility supply, food delivery and banking services could still be carried out in accordance with recommendations issued by national authorities. On 31 March, the government announced a nationwide curfew, forbidding individuals from leaving their homes between 21:00 and 06:00, and imposed further restrictions on movement. The government began removing restrictions in six phases starting on 27 April. Free movement of people and vehicles was re-established, and services gradually re-opened, sometimes faster than planned (e.g. hotels re-opened in June, one month earlier than foreseen). Domestic tourism resumed on 15 June, but international flights mostly remain suspended. In light of the recent increase in the number of cases, public gatherings are still limited to 200 persons outdoors and 10 indoors, the start of in-person schooling was postponed, and theatres, cinemas and child entertainment facilities remain closed until 1 November. The authorities do not plan on reintroducing a nationwide lockdown, but additional, stricter measures might be enacted locally if deemed necessary.
On 17 March, Moldova declared a state of emergency until 15 May. The country suspended organised activities, restricted travel and moved to online education. National events (such as Victory Day on 9 May) were postponed, and exams for primary schools and high schools cancelled. Moreover, movement in Chișinău and Balti was restricted, as public transport only worked intermittently. On 25 March, the authorities prohibited individuals aged over 63 from leaving their homes (except for exceptional circumstances) and barred gatherings in public places. The army was mobilised to enforce these measures. Employees of public institutions (with some exceptions, notably medical, public order and education staff) were sent on vacation until 30 April. Some municipalities were placed in quarantine for 14 days. Retail shops, markets, restaurants, fitness centres, concert halls, theatres, cinemas and museums had their activities halted until June. The National Commission started to lift some restrictions on 27 April, allowing several retail trade activities (excluding shopping centres) to resume and citizens to go to parks. Kindergarten reopened in August. A National Public Health emergency replaced the State of Emergency mid-May, and ended on 30 September. As the number of cases is still increasing, a colour code classifying regions by risk was introduced in October to adapt measures to the local epidemiological situation. A state of emergency has been declared in districts considered high-risk ’red zones’ (over 100 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the previous two weeks), allowing territorial authorities to enact stricter measures (e.g. movement restrictions, closure of schools, ban on mass events). Some restrictions still apply country-wide, such as a 50-persons limit for gatherings.
On 12 March, Ukraine imposed a nationwide quarantine and shut down educational institutions and public events with over 200 people. Later, the government closed all cafes, restaurants, gyms, shopping malls and entertainment venues, though grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, post offices and petrol stations remain open. Gatherings and intercity transport were restricted, and metro services were shut. Many firms started switching to telework, and some higher-education institutions and schools have moved to online instruction. On 27 March, all air or rail travel was banned, though citizens crossing the border on foot or by car could still re-enter the country. New entrants in Ukraine had to undergo a 14-day medical quarantine with thorough medical supervision. On 3 April, the Prime Minister announced the introduction of new measures, including a ban on being in public areas without wearing a mask and on walking in groups of more than two. The government also imposed a ban on visiting parks, squares, recreation areas, forest parks and coastal zones, except for the purposes of walking pets (individually).
Individuals in selected sectors have been allowed to return to work since 8 April, and restrictions started being relaxing on 11 May, notably with the re-opening of outdoor restaurants as well as several service providers. This was followed by the re-opening of public transportation, hotels and kindergarten at the end of May. An ‘adaptive quarantine regime’ was introduced on 22 May, which was extended until 31 October. Domestic flights resumed on 5 June, and international travel on 15 June, but the entry of most foreigners was banned again for a month at the end of August in light of the worsening health situation. The country is now divided in four colour zones depending on the local epidemiological situation (based on the evolution of the number of new cases and the bed occupancy rate). These colours define the restrictions that apply locally. Public health rules, e.g. wearing a mask, apply country-wide.
Lockdown from March to May.
State of emergency replaced by a quarantine regime on 11 September.
Public events cannot have more than 60 participants.
Practicing social distancing and wearing a mask is mandatory in public spaces.
Travelers to the country have to submit to a PCR test or self-quarantine for 14 days.
Special quarantine regime ongoing since March, to last at least until November 2
Ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people
Curfew from 9pm to 6am every day
Air and land borders closed.
No restrictions to movement of people.
Sports and other public events continue.
Social distancing and wearing a mask recommended, some companies and universities made teleworking arrangements
Self-isolation mandatory for new entrants to the country, infected individuals, and first- and second-level contacts
Lockdown with curfew from March to May. State of emergency ended.
Ban on public gatherings of more than 200 people outdoor and 10 indoor
Face masks are mandatory in public spaces.
International flights mostly closed.
National State of Emergency from 17 March to 15 May
National Public Health Emergency from 16 May to 30 September
Local state of emergency in some high-risk districts since October
Ban on gatherings of more than 50 people
Exhibitions, festivals and fairs allowed, as well as theatres and concerts with attendance limited at 50% of the seats, and for a duration of two hours maximum.
Further restrictions can be enacted locally in high-risk zones.
Chisinau International Airport re-opened on 15 June.
Nationwide quarantine form 12 March to 22 May, with measures being gradually lifted from 11 May
Adaptive quarantine regime since 22 May, to remain at least until 31 October
Restrictions applied depend on the epidemiological situation of each region:
Limitations on attendance of mass events even in ‘green’ zones.
Wearing facial masks required in public areas.
Entry of foreigners permitted again since October.
Closure of businesses and infrastructures
Businesses and infrastructures have re-opened, but have to observe safety rules.
Restaurant and cafes have re-opened.
Metro in Baku, Sumgait and Absheron interrupted on weekends.
Education institutions opened, although children can only visit them twice to three times a week, and universities mostly operate online.
Education and other public institutions remain open. School holidays were extended by two weeks, but classes resumed on 20 April.
Businesses and infrastructures re-opened, except theatres, cinemas, and child entertainment facilities, which remain closed until November 1.
In-person schooling resumed on 1 Oct for pupils from 1st to 6th grade, except in Adjara. Other students still follow remote courses.
Businesses and infrastructures have re-opened, but have to observe safety rules.
Local restrictions can be applied in high-risk zones.
Restaurants, cafes and shopping centres re-opened.
Public transport operate.
Night clubs and entertainment facilities closed again on August 28..
Schools might be closed in case of COVID-19 outbreak.
State support package
AMD 163.4 billion (USD 340 million) economic package..
AZN 3.3 billion (approx. USD 2 billion) support package.
BYN 5 to 6 billion (USD 2 to 2.5 billion) overall support package announced in April.
GEL 3.55 billion (approx. USD 1.11 billion) support package.
Measures announced amount to over LEU 4.4 billion (USD 261 million), against LEU 3.2 billion (USD 190 million) initially announced in April (LEU 2.1 billion (USD 120 million) to support the economy and businesses and LEU 1.06 billion (USD 63 million) for social insurance, including LEU 180 million (USD 10.7 million) for unemployment benefits).
UAH 66 billion (USD 2.33 billion), with additional sums directed for medical support and pension fund.
Financial support measures
Loan readjustments, co-financing, refinancing and interest rate subsidies for enterprises (max 500 million AMD per firm).
Additional loan subsidy programs implemented for SMEs and entities from specific sectors (agriculture, brandy and wine, transport).
Entrepreneurship fostered through grants in the IT sector and interest-free loans.
For businesses in sectors negatively affected by the pandemic, 60% state guarantee and 50% interest rate subsidy on new loans; 10% interest rate subsidy on existing loans for a year.
Unsecured microloans for the agricultural sector.
The National Bank asked commercial banks to delay loan and interest payments for citizens and not to raise interest fees
Some prudential requirements were relaxed
Liquidity coverage ratio lowered to 80%
Capital conservation buffer to 2%
Refinancing rate down to 7.75%.
Credit guarantee scheme increased to GEL 330 million, which secures a GEL 2 billion credit portfolio
90% guarantee on new loans, 30% on restructuring
Up to 80% interest subsidies for small hotels during six months
Grants for small businesses amounting to GEL 30,000 maximum
GEL 600 million provided to commercial banks
Additional state support through Increased co-financing and leasing mechanisms
Commercial banks will accept loan repayments with a postponement of three months.
Full debt write-offs for those engaged in agricultural activities.
Central bank interventions to lower capital and liquidity requirements.
Increase of state budget allocations to the state emergency fund by LEU 452 million (USD 26.8 million) and to a mortgage guarantee program
For loans contracted to pay salaries or for operating assets, the state will cover bank interests up to six months payroll
Interest Grant Program aimed at facilitating businesses’ access to credit
LEU 100 million (approx. USD 5.9 million) support for entrepreneurs (including grants for women entrepreneurs)
Further support, including direct financial assistance and increase insurance subsidies, for the agriculture sector.
“Affordable loans at 5-7-9%” programme to help refinance existing loans and assist businesses in covering the costs of payroll.
New programme to provide loans of max. UAH 5 billion to SMEs at 0% interest rate, with an 80% state guarantee.
Credit institutions may not raise interest rates on loans already issued.
Central bank interventions to support the hryvnia and lowering of interest rate to 8% (compared to 18% during the spring of 2019).
Business support policies
Wage subsidies as one-time grants covering the salary of each 5th employee for companies with up to 100 employees.
9-months wage subsidies for every 3rd employee in tourism-related enterprises that have maintained over 70% of their staff or 25% of payroll.
Lump-sum assistance for companies and individual entrepreneurs in particularly affected sectors (incl. hospitality, public catering, tourism, beauty, and retail) and for micro-enterprises.
Partial payment of salaries to 300,000 employees
Additional financial support for entrepreneurs who did not carry out severe job cuts
Support programme for individual entrepreneurs working in sectors affected by the pandemic
Deadlines for paying taxes and filing declarations have been extended. Taxpayers in sectors particularly affected by the pandemic are exempted from 75% of their income tax, from land and property tax for one year, and from rental tax for 9 months.
Decree passed on April 24 notably foreseeing payment holidays and instalments, and rent payment holidays.
Two decrees passed on May 28 providing subsidies for employees whose working hours have been reduced.
Income support provided for retained jobs as income tax exemptions
One-time assistance to 250,000 self-employed
Property tax exemption for 2020 and income tax deferral until the end of the year for the tourism sector, three months’ utility subsidies
The volume of VAT returns was doubled to GEL 1.2 billion to supply companies with working capital.
Additional support is provided for those producing medical, hygienic and food products.
For enterprises that suspended their work, the government helped pay salaries by refunding up to 100% of personal income taxes, social and medical contributions.
Delaying deadlines for taxes and social contributions
Decreased VAT for the food & accommodation sector
VAT Refund Program of LEU 1 billion (USD 59 million)
Partial unemployment programme: employers are compensated for wages paid to partially furloughed employees in the amount of two thirds of salaries, but not exceeding the minimum wage.
Legislation passed to allow businesses to implement more flexible working hours
Suspension of property tax payments for businesses
Personal tax deferral
SMEs offered temporary relief from obligation to pay social security contributions
Land tax, rent for state and communal property, no taxes on non-residential real estate, rent relief
Individual entrepreneurs temporarily exempted from paying social taxes, land taxes, and rental of state and communal property. Additional allowance for entrepreneurs with children under 10.
VAT reduced for culture, tourism and creative industries.
Social support measures
Lump-sum assistance for the newly unemployed, families and pregnant women in hardship, and to partly cover utility bills.
Provision of 1,000 temporary jobs in the agricultural sector.
Financial assistance to students (full or partial reimbursement of tuition fees for Q2 2019-2020, and interest rate subsidy on student loans).
Support to the unemployed (extension of the unemployment insurance coverage to 20,000 new beneficiaries, lump-sum assistance distributed in April-May and August)
Provision of 50,000 public jobs
Assistance to socially vulnerable families to cover utility bills and tuition fees.
Price regulation by the State for some essential products (food and sanitary items) until end 2020.
Temporary unemployment benefits for persons taking care of children, if the latter were in contact with a COVID-19 infected patient.
Extension of the social allowance until August 31 for low-income citizens whose allowance was to expire between May and July 2020.
Monthly allowance for six months to those who lost their jobs or are on unpaid leave because of coronavirus (about USD 144.4 million), and further assistance for low-income families, persons with disabilities, and students.
Introduction of pension indexation.
Children living and working in the streets transferred to safe spaces.
The government will cover exchange rate risks for importers for selected products, and utility bills were covered for three months (electricity, water and waste management bills for over 1.2 million families, natural gas bills for over 670,000 families).
One time allowance of LEU 16,000 (USD 950) to some categories of public sector employees who contracted the virus
Increase in unemployment benefits. Moreover, people who are not usually eligible for unemployment benefits now have access to a grant worth of minimum salary.
Minimum income guaranteed for families with low revenues increased to LEU 1,300 (USD 77) during state of emergency
One time allowance of LEU 900 (USD 53) for low-income individuals in October.
Indexation of pensions and minimum guaranteed income to be introduced.
Increase of the minimum amount of unemployment benefits and pensions.
Subsidies provided for vulnerable groups in covering utility bills
Mortgage payments postponed
Price controls imposed
Expenses of COVID-19 medicine deductible from the calculation of personal income tax
This project is implemented with the financial support of the European Union within the EU4Business initiative. EU4Business is an EU initiative that helps SMEs in the six countries of the Eastern Partnership region to realise their full potential and boost economic growth.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Republic of Moldova and Ukraine
Detailed information on EaP countries’ containment efforts is presented in Annex 1.
The assets of Azerbaijan’s State Oil Fund amount to USD 41.3 billion, and the assets of the central bank to USD 18.9 billion. See "Fitch Revises Outlook on Azerbaijan to Negative; Affirms at 'BB+", Fitch Ratings, 10 April, www.fitchratings.com/research/sovereigns/fitch-revises-outlook-on-azerbaijan-to-negative-affirms-at-bb-10-04-2020; "Recent Figures", State Oil Fund of the Republic of Azerbaijan, 1 April, www.oilfund.az/en/report-and-statistics/recent-figures; "Azerbaijani bank assets show slight decrease in Q1 2020", MENAFN, 1 May, https://menafn.com/1100101506/Azerbaijani-bank-assets-show-slight-decrease-in-Q1-2020.
CEIC Data – Foreign Exchange Reserves, www.ceicdata.com/en/indicator/foreign-exchange-reserves
“Measures to support SMEs in Belarus during pandemic and global recession”, BEROC, May 4, www.beroc.by/webroot/delivery/files/PP_SME_Support.pdf
João Granja, Christos Makridis, Constantine Yannelis, and Eric Zwick (2020), “Did the Paycheck Protection Programme Hit the Target”, NBER Working Paper 27095, May, www.nber.org/papers/w27095.ack.
Adapted from Blanchard et al. (2020), “A new policy toolkit is needed as countries exit COVID-19 lockdowns”, www.piie.com/publications/policy-briefs/new-policy-toolkit-needed-countries-exit-covid-19-lockdowns
Adapted from Blanchard et al. (2020), “A new policy toolkit is needed as countries exit COVID-19 lockdowns”, www.piie.com/publications/policy-briefs/new-policy-toolkit-needed-countries-exit-covid-19-lockdowns
“Hitting the Trillion Mark: A Look at How Much Countries Are Spending on Infrastructure”, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 8730