Moon moots emergency supplementary budget

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Moon moots emergency supplementary budget


President Moon Jae-in speaks during a meeting on Monday at the Blue House in central Seoul. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in suggested Monday that his government consider an emergency supplementary budget to support its “dual” fight against the coronavirus and its economic impact.

“We should mobilize all national capabilities to prevent the spread of Covid-19 [the official name of the coronavirus],” he stressed, speaking at the outset of his weekly meeting with his senior Blue House aides amid a sharp rise in the number of patients here. He invited 10 Korean experts on infectious diseases to the session, including Peck Kyong-ran, head of the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases.

He called for a “bold injection” of government funds to help revive local economies hit by Covid-19 cases, especially Daegu, and nearby areas, where hundreds of people infected with the virus have been reported over the past few days.

Moon instructed the government to consider the allocation of an early supplementary budget “if necessary” and to quickly spend money from the existing reserve funds, worth 3.4 trillion won ($2.8 billion).

He pointed out that timing is crucial for such a policy step to minimize the damage to businesses, boost domestic consumption and revitalize troubled local economies. It’s unusual for a Korean government to seek an extra budget in the first half of a year.

Moon’s economy team is widely expected to seek a “super extra budget” bill that would be worth over 10 trillion won.

While South Korea was suffering the economic effects of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak in 2015, the National Assembly approved an 11.6-trillion-won budget bill. During the 2003 severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, 7.5 trillion won of extra funds was earmarked.

Moon also appealed to the people to have trust in his government’s quarantine measures and join “pan-national” forces in efforts to ride out the crisis. He said the anti-virus system of his administration and local governments is in full swing.

“I would like to ask the people to have confidence in our quarantine capabilities and medical system and to join forces in overcoming the current difficulty,” he added.

The president also assured the public that the government is in an emergency mode in the face of the “dual” challenges of quarantining people and dealing with the economic fallout. He stated again that South Korea is in an “emergency economic situation” due to the virus outbreak.

“The government should make special prescriptions for extraordinary economic situations,” Moon emphasized, urging the government to make decisions and take special measures in a swift and aggressive manner with “no restriction on policy-related imagination.”

On Sunday, Moon announced the elevation of the state alert to the highest level of the four-tier system - “red.”

The Education Ministry has postponed the opening of the spring semester for all of the nation’s kindergartens and schools by a week to March 9.

Critics argue the Moon administration is to partly blame for the recent proliferation of the virus, citing its “belated” quarantine steps in general.

They are calling for an across-the-board entry ban on people coming from China, the origin of Covid-19. Moon made no mention of the sensitive issue in his opening remarks during the latest Blue House meeting.

Of concern is the impact on Korea’s traditional relations with the neighboring country - its top trade partner - and potential effects on other countries reportedly mulling over a similar entry ban for Korean nationals amid fears of the deadly virus.

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