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Moon urges 'unprecedented' special steps for pandemic-hit economy


South Korean President Moon Jae-in called Friday for "unprecedented" policy measures to counter the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, speaking at a rare Cheong Wa Dae meeting with the country's finance minister and central bank chief.

Moon received an emergency briefing on the real economy and the financial market jolted by growing worries about the global spread of COVID-19.

It marked Bank of Korea Gov. Lee Ju-yeol's first official visit to Moon's office since he was reappointed to the post in 2018, which reflects how seriously the government takes the current economic and financial situations.

"Now is an emergency economic situation" not comparable to the MERS crisis in 2015 and the SARS incident in 2003, Moon told them, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok.

The president was emphasizing that the economy team shouldn't limit policy steps to relevant precedents.

"We can compare it with past cases, but it is a special situation different from then, and we should do unprecedented things," Moon was quoted as adding.

On travel restrictions against South Korea in connection with the COVID-19 outbreak, Moon instructed a review of ways to talk with international agencies so that businessmen with medical certificates can be granted exceptions.

Besides Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo and Eun Sung-soo, head of the Financial Services Commission, joined the 90-minute meeting.

The president also expressed his confidence in Hong, who doubles as deputy minister for economy, despite a political controversy over whether he's fit to serve as the so-called control tower of economic affairs in the ongoing crisis.

"You've done well so far," Moon said, asking Hong to keep up the good work, according to Kang.

Lee Hae-chan, leader of the ruling Democratic Party, voiced displeasure with Hong's work related to what he views as a "passive" extra budget plan.

The party regards the 11.7 trillion-won ($9.55 billion) supplementary budget bill, submitted to the National Assembly, as insufficient and wants the scale to be expanded considerably for effective use in the fight against the virus and to minimize its economic impact.

"I may call on him to step down if he remains passive like this," Lee reportedly said at a meeting of senior party officials earlier this week.

The central bank is considering whether to hold an emergency session to cut benchmark interest rates.

The country's stock market continued its nose-dive Friday, forcing the stock exchange to temporarily halt trading on the main Kospi bourse and the tech-heavy Kosdaq alike.

The Kospi dropped 3.43 percent to close at 1,771.44, and the Kosdaq plunged 7.01 percent to 524.00. (Yonhap)