Reconsider the stimuli packageThe government has enforced its toughest social distancing rules in the greater Seoul area for two weeks from Monday after a dramatic surge in Covid-19 cases in the region. As a result of Level 4 regulations, citizens cannot have private gatherings of more than two people after 6 pm. The emergency demands the public proactively abide by the distancing guidelines to overcome the pandemic crisis in which daily Covid-19 cases could soar up to 2,000 soon.
What concerns us the most is the deepening pains of the self-employed and small merchants. Over the 17 months since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020 in Korea, they have been struggling to stay afloat. Even though stringent social distancing rules are unavoidable to help prevent a fourth wave of the pandemic, the vulnerable class will certainly be further pushed to the edge due to the reinforced guidelines.
The developments point to the need to readjust the spending of the 33-trillion-won ($28.7 billion) supplementary budget earmarked to relieve their sufffering. Given the critical discrepancy between the consumption boost package and the worsened pandemic, the government must weigh the feasibility of its massive supplementary package. The Moon Jae-in administration had planned to boost consumption by doling out various types of coupons to the people, but the rapidly worsening pandemic calls for a brake on the spending. For instance, if the people rush to spend the handouts in the face of tougher restrictions bordering on a night curfew, it could trigger a spike in Covid-19 cases again.
Another question is how to distribute the 10.4-trillion-won relief grants the government and the ruling Democratic Party (DP) agreed to give to the people. The government and DP decided to hand out 250,000 won each to the lower 80 percent income brackets, but citing a fourth wave of the coronavirus, they could give the money to everyone. Research shows giving grants to those in need is more effective than universal handouts. We hope the government and DP find a wise solution.
Appearing on television last week, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum apologized for the government’s decision to enforce the Level 4 distancing rules. The government must stop dilly-dallying and minimize public pain through stronger quarantine measures and faster vaccinations. It must avoid the worse scenario of the simultaneous collapse of public health and self-employed businesses.