Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun (Yonhap)
South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Saturday that the government will allow state disaster management funds to be used to help small businesses and support those socially vulnerable in regards to the novel coronavirus crisis.
"We are now facing an unprecedented situation, so we need to use all possible means to handle the situation," Chung said during a meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters in Seoul.
Under a current law, state disaster management funds can be used only for the prevention of disaster situations and emergency recovery efforts. But some municipal governments have been urging the central government to allow the use of such funds for so-called disaster-related basic income to help virus-hit households after the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed down people's economic activities.
"We believe 17 cities and municipalities can utilize a maximum 3.8 trillion won (US$3 billion) of funds," he said. "Since those are funds created by taxpayers' money, I want to ask mayors and governors to use the funds efficiently to overcome the crisis."
With the novel coronavirus declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, South Korea has been focusing on preventing imported cases. Starting Sunday, the country decided to conduct virus test on all arrivals from Europe.
Chung said such measures were "inevitable" in South Korea's fight against the novel coronavirus.
In regards to South Korea's decision to push back the start of the schools' new academic year to April 6, Chung also asked for people's understanding, saying that the country couldn't allow students to attend school in a situation where safety is not guaranteed.
"In order to open the new school semester as planned, we need a special measure that needs help from every citizen," he said. "We may require bigger sacrifice than what we experienced in the past." (Yonhap)