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Ruling party, government mull W10tr to tackle COVID-19

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

The ruling party and government are considering a supplementary budget of more than 10 trillion won ($8.2 billion) to contain the COVID-19 novel coronavirus.

“Due to the emergency situation, we are formulating an extra budget plan in the first quarter, which is rare. … Over 10 trillion won would be a ‘super supplementary budget,’” an official of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea told Yonhap News.

During the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2015, extra budgets of 7.5 trillion won and 11.6 trillion won, respectively, were drawn up to contain the diseases.

The Democratic Party and government are also reviewing a plan to temporarily grant hospitals the same status as small and medium-sized enterprises in order to provide them government aid.

“Hospitals have been excluded from the government aid for SMEs (hit by COVID-19) as they do not belong to the same category as SMEs. We are considering treating them as SMEs for the time being to support them,” the Democratic Party official said.

“We are not changing their legal status. The move is based on a consensus that special countermeasures are necessary as the COVID-19 alert level has been raised to ‘serious.’”

The ruling party and government are discussing criteria for hospitals to be granted SME status, and support measures for them to be reflected in the supplementary budget plan.

As treatment for confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus can affect other patients of serious illnesses, the Democratic Party and government are also reviewing financial aid to improve the health care delivery system.

With schools and kindergartens delaying the start of their spring semester by a week due to the coronavirus, plans to allow parents to take days off or use a flexible working hours system are underway.

“There is a time gap between when the extra budget plan passes the National Assembly and when people urgently need to take days off work. The government is considering making up for companies that completely support (employees’ need to take leave),” the Democratic Party official said.

He added that exceptional measures to support the self-employed, small businesses and exporters having trouble running factories are also being planned.

Democratic Party floor leader Lee in-young on Sunday requested the government immediately draft a supplementary budget proposal to help contain the coronavirus and report it to the National Assembly.

The Democratic Party and government began discussing the extra budget plan in a meeting of senior officials later Sunday, and the ministries have begun planning what to include in the extra budget.

By Kim So-hyun (sophie@heraldcorp.com)
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