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UPDATE 1-IMF urges coordinated, proportionate response to coronavirus

Andrea Shalal

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WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund on Thursday urged countries to work together in responding to the rapidly spreading coronavirus outbreak, and called for more donations to help the poorest countries deal with the escalating pandemic.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said it was too early to assess the impact of a sharp drop in oil prices on the global economy, but the Fund would next month release more precise forecasts reflecting both that development and what the World Health Organization is calling a pandemic next month.

The IMF and World Bank last week said they would switch to a virtual format for their Spring Meetings due to the coronavirus. The IMF still plans to release its updated World Economic Outlook and other documents in time for the meetings.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva last week said the coronavirus outbreak would keep global growth below the 2.9% rate seen in 2019, but held off on providing more detailed forecasts, saying there was still too much uncertainty.

More than 129,140 people have been infected by the coronavirus in 124 countries across the world and 4,750 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Rice underscored previous IMF calls for coordinated action a day after U.S. President Donald Trump caught Europe off guard by announcing significant restrictions on travel to the United States from most European countries.

The European Union said it disapproved of the unilateral travel ban, and said the decision was taken "unilaterally and without consultation."

Rice did not address the specific impact of the latest U.S. travel restrictions.

"We need to be talking to each other, exchanging information, learning about this virus, leveraging our resources as much as we can," he told reporters. "We've been asking for governments to be forward-leaning ... to take well-targeted and proportionate measures," he said.

Rice said the Fund was working expeditiously to deal with all requests for coronavirus-related assistance from member countries, including Iran, and expected to provide more specific details "in the coming days."

He said it was clear that the sharp drop in oil prices would affect oil-producing countries like Nigeria and Ecuador, among others.

Rice welcomed Britain's contribution of 150 million pounds to the IMF's Catastrophe Containment and Relief Trust, and urged other countries to make similar contributions to expand the $200 million now available.

"This trust fund at the moment is significantly underfunded," Rice said, "That's why we have been urging member countries to contribute urgently." (Reporting by Andrea Shalal and David Lawder Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Sonya Hepinstall)