May 18, 2020 / 1:36 PM / 14 days ago

Chile's economy grows 0.4% in first quarter 2020, boosted by mining: central bank

FILE PHOTO: An empty street in a commercial sector of Santiago, during a preventive quarantine following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Santiago, Chile, April 16, 2020. REUTERS/Pablo Sanhueza

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s gross domestic product CLGDPQ=ECI grew 0.4% percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with a year earlier, the central bank said on Monday, as the onset of the coronavirus outbreak began to take its toll on the South American nation´s economy.

The pandemic hit Chile early in March, just as green shoots had begun to emerge following months of violent protests over inequality in late 2019 that had hammered the economy of the world´s top copper producer.

Chile moved quickly to close its borders and shutter most non-essential businesses, sending growth plummeting in March after a stronger-than-expected January and February.

“The measures ... to contain the spread of Covid-19 beginning in March ... significantly impacted education, trade, transport, restaurants and hotels, among others,” the bank said in a statement accompanying the results.

Mining activity remained a bright spot, growing 5.1% despite the global downturn in prices and demand for copper. Most of Chile´s mines have continued to operate with reduced staff, and output has remained largely unaffected.

Domestic demand, however, plunged 2.6%, the bank said, as consumers retreated to their homes as the virus spread in March.

Chile surpassed 40,000 cases of the new coronavirus last week amid a sharp spike in infections that has seen hospitals approach collapse in the weeks ahead of the southern hemisphere winter.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood, editing by Louise Heavens and Nick Zieminski

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