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S. Korea mulls including rental assistance for virus-hit merchants in emergency handouts

This photo, taken last Tuesday, shows almost no people at Namdaemun Market in central Seoul, one of South Korea's biggest traditional markets, amid the new coronavirus outbreak. (Yonhap)
This photo, taken last Tuesday, shows almost no people at Namdaemun Market in central Seoul, one of South Korea's biggest traditional markets, amid the new coronavirus outbreak. (Yonhap)
South Korea is considering providing rental assistance to smaller merchants hard hit by the new coronavirus outbreak, when it will give them another round of emergency handouts next month, people familiar with the matter said Sunday.

The move comes as more smaller merchants and self-employed people are facing the growing burdens of paying rental fees due to the government's order to suspend their business amid the protracted pandemic.

The country is preparing to provide more than 3 trillion won ($2.79 billion) in the third round of emergency handouts designed to help them fight the virus outbreak in January.

"As the third wave of the pandemic has had a far-reaching fallout on the economy, the scope of affected people has also expanded," a finance ministry official said. "As calls for rental assistance by smaller merchants mounted, we are looking into more details."

Smaller merchants and the self-employed have been hardest hit by the pandemic as people have refrained from visiting off-line stores or dining out on concerns about virus infections.

"We are exploring ways to provide more tax benefits to landlords who cut rent and support rental assistance for tenants," a ruling Democratic Party (DP) official said.

Currently, the country provides tax credits on 50 percent of cuts in rental fees to landlords who reduce rents.

The government is considering providing financial assistance to help tenants cover fixed costs, including rent, in the cases that the government's order to suspend operations incurred economic damage.

If these supports are factored in, the amount of the emergency relief funds to be doled out in January may rise to at least 4 trillion won.

The DP also sees the need to create another extra budget early next year if new virus cases are not brought under control by the current level of social distancing.

South Korea is mulling whether to raise its social distancing guidelines to Level 3, the highest in its five-tier scheme, as virus cases are raging across the nation.

This year, the country drew up four rounds of supplementary budgets totaling 67 trillion won. Next year, the government plans to frontload 63 percent of the nation's budget spending in the first half to prop up the economy. (Yonhap)
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