May 22, 2020 / 1:45 PM / a month ago

Tunisia's GDP shrank 1.7% in the first quarter of 2020

The deserted empty Marsa beach is pictured in Tunis, Tunisia April 1, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi

TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s GDP shrank by 1.7% year-on year in the first quarter of 2020, the State Statistics Institute said on Friday, as the vital tourism sector has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

That compared with growth of 1.1 percent in the same quarter last year.

Authorities in the North African country expect the economy to shrink by 4.3% this year, which would be its steepest contraction in more than 60 years.

Tunisia started relaxing restrictions on movement and businesses this month, allowing half of government employees to return to work, but the pandemic is hammering its tourism sector which contributes nearly 10% of gross domestic product and is a key source of foreign currency.

Tourism revenues fell in the first three months of 2020 by 27 percent compared to the same period in 2019 to 1 billion dinars, as western tourists deserted Tunisia’s hotels and resorts.

Finance Minister Nizar Yaich said last month in a letter to the International Monetary Fund that the tourism sector could lose $1.4 billion and 400,000 jobs this year due to the new coronavirus pandemic. [nL8N2BG8WL]

Tunisia’s need for external funding will double to about 5 billion euros this year from about 2.5 billion euros previously expected, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh has said. [nL8N2CU72X]

Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Alex Richardson and Philippa Fletcher

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