Government sets loans for retailers hit by AI

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Government sets loans for retailers hit by AI

The government released plans Friday to grant loans up to 70 million won ($58,309) at a 2 percent interest rate, to business owners who affected by the outbreak of the H5N6 avian influenza virus (AI).

Beneficiaries include restaurants and retail store owners that sell chickens and ducks, and bakeries that are struggling due to the egg prices that have risen significantly. The 2 percent rate is relatively lower than those offered by local financial institutions. The government plans to give out loans starting as early as the second week of January.

“We have come up with plans to give financial support as the number of small-business owners that are damaged by the outbreaks of AI continues to rise,” said Joo Hwan-wook, a director at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

More than 50 percent of 647 business owners across the nation surveyed on Wednesday said their sales and the number of customers have dropped, the Small and Medium Business Administration said. Its study found people running businesses in traditional markets were hit harder by the outbreak.

The government said the number of reports of suspected AI has dropped, but that it doesn’t necessarily means that the country is currently safe as there are recent reports of wild birds with AI.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there were just two cases reported to the government from Tuesday to Thursday. The figure was nearly 10 to 14 cases per day this month.

A total of 117 cases have been reported to the government, and among them114 were legitimate cases of bird flu, the Agriculture Ministry said Friday. The ministry said AI has hit every region in Korea except North Gyeongsang and the southern island of Jeju.

A total of 28.32 million birds from 591 farms have been or will be slaughtered. Among them, 21.01 million are layer chickens, which account for 30.1 percent of the total layer chickens in the country, which suggests the supply of eggs will remain low for some time.

Even though the reported cases have dropped, the government officials said the chance of the virus spreading in the country still remains as sterilizing tends to be less effective during winter due to low temperatures.

The average retail price for a tray of 30 eggs jumped 48.9 percent from 5,478 won a month ago to 8,155 won as of Thursday due to the outbreak that has been spreading since Nov. 16, the Korea Agro-Fisheries & Food Trade Corporation (aT) said. The price surpassed 7,000 won for the first time since 1996, when the agency started compiling data in its current form.

The highest price reported to aT for a tray of 30 eggs was 9,700 won, which is 39 percent higher than the prices last month, before the shortage began. Some local retailers are selling a 30-egg tray for as much as 10,000 won.


BY KIM YOUNG-NAM [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]

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