Gov’t vows 50.5 billion aid package to fight virus

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Gov’t vows 50.5 billion aid package to fight virus

The Korean government announced Tuesday it will spend 50.5 billion won ($45.1 million) to fight the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) crisis.

The package includes 1.4 billion won to subsidize treatment for patients either suspected or confirmed to be infected with the virus.

The announcement comes a week after Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Choi Kyung-hwan declared free treatment for MERS patients, but this is the first time the government disclosed how much it would spend.

The decision was approved at the cabinet meeting held at Sejong Government Complex on Tuesday.

The budget will come from the Ministry of Strategy and Finance’s annual reserve funds.

This spending is separate from the Finance Ministry’s 400 billion won package to boost the domestic economy introduced last week, which consisted of loans and aid to the areas of the private sector affected by the disease.

“The government hopes the spending will contribute to the treatment of existing patients and prevent more people from being infected,” said Yoo Byung-seo, head of welfare budget division at the Finance Ministry. “Other spending has been allocated from the Health Ministry’s annual budget. If more funding is needed, the government will immediately spend more.”

About 15 billion won will be spent on medical equipment such as masks and sanitary products to be distributed at hospitals and community healthcare centers nationwide. Roughly 2.7 billion won will be spent on temporary hospital rooms for people under quarantine.

So far, hospitals with MERS patients have suffered from a shortage of rooms, tents and negative pressure equipment, which prevents contaminated air from escaping isolation wards.

Nearly 2.2 billion won will go towards hiring extra doctors and nurses, and 6.3 billion won will go to the National Medical Center, which treated the majority of confirmed patients in the early days of the outbreak.

The government will spend 6.9 billion won to continue providing health care for non-MERS patients.

With the money, each city and county will have up to two “safe hospitals,” where patients with respiratory symptoms are completely separated from other patients.

BY KIM JI-YOON [kim.jiyoon@joongang.co.kr]
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