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S. Korea's parliament passes extra budget bill to fight coronavirus

The National Assembly approves an 11.7 trillion-won (US$9.42 billion) extra budget on March 17, 2020, to help contain the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)
The National Assembly approves an 11.7 trillion-won (US$9.42 billion) extra budget on March 17, 2020, to help contain the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)

The National Assembly on Tuesday approved an 11.7 trillion-won ($9.42 billion) extra budget to help contain the novel coronavirus and minimize the economic fallout from the outbreak.

The supplementary budget bill passed through the parliamentary plenary session, with 222 of the 225 lawmakers present voting in favor. One voted against the bill while the remaining two lawmakers abstained.

The overall size of the budget was unchanged from the original government proposal but details have been adjusted.

Lawmakers cut some expenditures unrelated to the virus pandemic and used them to increase funding for the hard-hit southeastern city of Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province by 1 trillion won.

Rival parties earlier agreed to handle the proposal by Tuesday, the last day of the current extraordinary parliamentary session.

South Korea has reported 8,320 caseloads and 81 deaths since the first case on Jan. 20.

The number of daily new infections has slowed to double-digits in recent days, but concerns about imported cases and small-scale cluster infections are mounting.

The extra budget against the coronavirus is the country's largest-ever supplementary budget to handle the fallout of an infectious disease.

In 2003, South Korea drew up a 4.2 trillion won in the face of the SARS outbreak. The country created an 11.6 trillion-won supplementary budget over the MERS outbreak in 2015.

Amid the fast spread of COVID-19, the government vowed to take "bold and swift" actions to minimize its potentially devastating impact on the economy.

Smaller firms and business owners are hit hard by the outbreak as people avoid outdoor activities and curtail consumption amid economic uncertainty.

The South Korean economy is likely to miss the Bank of Korea (BOK)'s 2020 growth projection of 2.1 percent due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The BOK made an emergency rate cut to a record low of 0.75 percent on Monday, joining its global peers to ease the monetary policy to shore up the economy.

Of the extra budget, the government plans to use more than 2 trillion won to boost local consumption. It will also spend money to improve the country's quarantine system.

Earlier, the government unveiled comprehensive measures worth 20 trillion won to support people's livelihoods.

South Korea is expected to take further steps to minimize the economic fallout by the coronavirus pandemic, including another extra budget.

President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that "The supplementary budget is not an end but a start," indicating that his country would seek a new stimulus package.

Several chiefs of local governments called for the government to provide cash to citizens to cope with economic hardship. The presidential office and the government have been negative toward the idea so far, due to burdens on state financial health. (Yonhap)