THE government is considering availing a loan package from multilateral lenders to fund efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) within the country.

This, after the World Bank Group announced on Wednesday an initial $12 billion in immediate financial support for developing countries battling the disease.

”We are currently in discussions with the DoH (Department of Health) on a loan package with multilateral agencies and this announcement of the World Bank is certainly welcomed,” Finance (DoF) Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III told reporters in a Viber message on Wednesday.

Mr. Dominguez said the loan packages being considered will fund the Health department’s capacity to immediately respond to the COVID-19 crisis and other similar situations.

“[The loan is specific] to the DoH with emphasis on quick reactions to COVID-19 and similar events,” he said.

The Finance chief did not disclose the amount they want to borrow.

Mr. Dominguez, however, assured that the government is “closely monitoring the effects of the contagion on tourism and the supply chain of our industries and preparing the appropriate fiscal responses.”

On the monetary side, he said the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ policy-setting body will also be “ready with measures to counter” the economic fallout from the COVID-19 outbreak.

In a statement released Wednesday, the World Bank said the $12 billion worth of fast-track grants, loans and low-interest loans will help countries coping with COVID-19 outbreak improve their health systems, provide wider access to health services, strengthen disease monitoring, and boost public health interventions, among others.

According to the multilateral lender, the package will also include advice on policy formulation as well as technical assistance both on global and local levels of expertise.

Of the $12-billion package, $8 billion consists of new financing. The total package is made up of new financing from the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) worth up to $2.7 billion, $1.3 billion from the International Development Association (IDA), $2 billion from the reprioritization of the World Bank’s existing portfolio, and $6 billion in financing from International Finance Corp. (IFC), which includes $2 billion from existing trade facilities.

“We are working to provide a fast, flexible response based on developing country needs in dealing with the spread of COVID-19,” World Bank President David Malpass was quoted as saying in the statement.

The WB said the support will prioritize the “poorest countries and those at high risk with low capacity.”

Currently, the Philippines is classified by the World Bank as a lower-middle income country, with a gross national income per capita of $3,830 in 2018.

“The point is to move fast; speed is needed to save lives,” Mr. Malpass was quoted by Reuters as saying during a teleconference with reporters. “There are scenarios where much more resources may be required. We’ll adapt our approach and resources as needed.”

Poor countries with weak health systems were the most vulnerable in such outbreaks, Mr. Malpass said, but past experience with Ebola and other outbreaks showed that taking the right measures quickly could lessen transmission of the disease and save lives.

He also cautioned countries against taking measures that would further limit trade.

Some countries had already requested aid, Mr. Malpass said, but declined to name them.

On Feb. 26, the Asian Development Bank approved another $2 million worth of funding to help its member countries deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, after it launched an initial $2-million assistance earlier last month to help selected countries respond to the fast-spreading disease. — Beatrice M. Laforga with Reuters