Moon backed for measures on outbreak

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Moon backed for measures on outbreak

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President Moon Jae-in, center, holds a meeting with leaders of four major political parties in the National Assembly on Friday to discuss how to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in gained bipartisan parliamentary support for the government’s measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak and minimize the economic fallout after a meeting with four leaders of ruling and opposition parties after at the National Assembly Friday.

Moon gained support for an emergency supplementary budget bill aimed at combating the virus, officially named Covid-19.

“As the first step to a pan-national response, cooperation of the National Assembly has been given and I ask you for increased support and speed,” Moon said in opening remarks to the party leaders.

“I look forward to your backing for the budget and measures needed to bolster prevention efforts and support victims.”

He said the impact on the Korean economy from the virus is especially “worrisome,” adding that the government is attempting “bold” measures in response.

The government raised its alert to the highest level last Sunday amid a spike in cases.

The talks took place for around 100 minutes in the Sarangjae House, a traditional Korean hanok structure within the assembly compound.

They were attended by Lee Hae-chan of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), Hwang Kyo-ahn of the main opposition United Future Party (UFP), You Sung-yop of the Party for People’s Livelihoods and Sim Sang-jeung of the Justice Party.

This was the first time since his inauguration that Moon has visited the National Assembly for a meeting with leaders of the four major political parties. Five previous rounds of such talks took place at the Blue House.

After the meeting, the four parties issued a joint statement saying they agreed that the National Assembly’s special committee on the coronavirus will actively cooperate with the government.

According to the statement, they “shared the view that there needs to be swift special countermeasures in order to prevent the spread of the virus, support victims and revive the economy, including through a supplementary budget.’’

The government is expected to forward a supplementary budget bill of at least 6.2 trillion won ($5.1 billion) to the assembly next week.

However, some party leaders criticized what they called the government’s slow response to the outbreak.

Hwang, chairman of the UFP, urged the president to give a public apology for what he called a failed response by the government. Hwang has been calling for a ban on the entry of all visitors from China.

Since Feb. 4, Korea has barred the entry of foreigners who were in Wuhan and Hubei Province, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, in the previous 14 days.

In response to the call for an entry ban on Chinese travelers, Moon replied, “A total ban can serve as a precedent for other countries to include Korea in their travel bans.”

Lee Hae-chan, head of the DP, said, “The ruling and opposition parties will have to work together in order to pass the supplementary budget bill and overcome the crisis.”

The president earlier met with National Assembly speaker Moon Hee-sang to discuss bolstering the emergency cooperation system between the government and parliament until the coronavirus outbreak comes to an end.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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