Disaster funds released to stem growing economic crisis

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Disaster funds released to stem growing economic crisis

Korea’s disaster management funds will be distributed to small businesses and vulnerable people who have been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister announced Saturday.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Saturday during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters that the government will provide an exception to the law governing the use of the funds, and will “use whatever means possible” to respond to the “unprecedented emergency situation.”

“We expect 17 cities and provinces can utilize up to 3.8 trillion won [$3.03 billion] of funds,” Chung said. “Those funds are made from precious taxpayers’ money, so I especially urge mayors and governors to use those funds in the right places, [and] efficiently, in overcoming the crisis.”

Cities and provinces may only use the funds to prevent disaster events and to carry out recovery efforts during and after the disaster, according to the legislation.

But as the coronavirus outbreak has sharply curtailed Koreans’ economic activities and brought down sales and profits for small businesses and households, some local governments have asked officials in Seoul to allow the money to be used as basic income to support their residents and livelihoods jeopardized by the unfolding economic disaster.

Whether and how the funds will be used will vary based on each region’s exposure to the coronavirus pandemic. The Blue House previously said it was reviewing possible implementation of a disaster-related basic income policy.

Since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, Korea has been focusing on preventing imported cases as it continues its efforts to curb the virus outbreak within its territory. Chung asked related agencies and municipalities to assist in the all-out testing effort, including by providing facilities for those being tested to be housed while they await results.

In a statement issued later on Saturday, Chung urged people to suspend operation of religious, indoor sports and entertainment facilities for 15 days to better contain the spread of the coronavirus.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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