UPDATE 1-Swiss see $23 bln 2020 deficit, COVID relief costs less than planned

(Adds details and background)

ZURICH, Aug 12 (Reuters) – The Swiss federal government expects a deficit of 20.9 billion Swiss francs ($22.87 billion) for 2020, it said on Wednesday, as the country’s coffers are hurt by lower receipts and costly programmes to offset the new coronavirus’s hit to the economy.

The shortfall results from an ordinary budget deficit of 3.1 billion francs, as well as extraordinary spending to combat the COVID-19 pandemic projected at 17.8 billion francs, the government said.

The extraordinary outlays would be less than the 30.8 billion parliament had approved for supporting short-time working schemes, compensating self-employed workers, buying medical materials and covering losses from state-backed emergency loans to business.

“It currently appears that the extraordinary expenditure provided for…will not be fully used,” Bern said. “Overall, this will result in a financing deficit of 20.9 billion francs.”

Switzerland ran a federal budget surplus of 3.6 billion francs in 2019 but, like other countries around the world, was forced to shutter much of the economy for weeks to stem the spread of the disease.

Finance Minister Ueli Maurer had warned in April the budget deficit could jump to around 6% of national output this year, but has since said the government overestimated the amount of short-time work employers would use to cushion the blow of decreasing demand.

In May, 890,890 people worked shorter hours, down 17% from April, while nearly 110,000 companies were using the measure, down 16%.

More than 37,000 people in Switzerland and neighbouring Liechtenstein have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,700 have died of the respiratory disease the coronavirus causes, Swiss health authorities here say.

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