Euro zone inflation fell to 1.2% in February, official data showed today, as the European Central Bank said it was preparing to respond to the economic impact of the coronavirus. 

The drop from 1.4% in January means the rate is even further from the ECB's target of just under 2%, though it was in line with the forecasts of analysts surveyed by financial services provider Factset.

The fast spreading coronavirus outbreak has roiled financial markets and disrupted international travel and supply chains.

It has prompted ECB chief Christine Lagarde to announce the bank was ready to take measures to lessen the economic impact. 

The ECB holds its next board meeting on March 12 but with unprecedented stimulus measures already in place there are doubts there is much more the bank can do to drive up stubbornly low inflation.

ECB policymaker Villeroy de Galhau echoed those sentiments in a Dutch newspaper interview.

He said the ECB was ready to support the economy in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, but governments with budget leeway also need to help.

Villeroy, who is also head of the French central bank, told De Telegraaf that the ECB's monetary policy was already accommodative and helping to stablise the euro zone economy.

The single currency zone's underlying inflation rate - which strips out energy, food, alcohol and tobacco - stood at 1.2% in February. 

Meanwhile, unemployment in the 19-member zone was stable at 7.4% in January, maintaining the lowest level seen since May 2008. 

The lowest rates were in the Czech Republic with 2% and Poland with 2.9%. 

As in December, the highest rates announced by Eurostat were in Greece, with 16.5%, and Spain with 13.7%.