South Korea’s government is preparing an extra budget bill worth around 20 trillion won (16.7 billion dollars) to fight against the new coronavirus, the interior minister said on Monday.
“The government plans to submit a supplementary budget bill to the National Assembly on Thursday as it struggles to contain the fast spread of COVID-19 amid a surge in infections,’’ Interior Minister Chin Young said.
Chin, when asked by an opposition lawmaker about the size of the proposed budget, told a parliamentary interpellation session that it would be some “20 trillion won”.
“In the process of a parliamentary review, in-depth discussions with the economy-related ministry appears to be needed,’’ Chin said.
The finance ministry, headed by Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki, is the main government organisation drawing up the extra budget bill.
Earlier in the day, the ruling party and government officials said that the proposed budget will be larger than 6.2 trillion won, the amount of fiscal spending allocated for the government’s 2015 extra budget to cope with the MERS outbreak.
In 2015, South Korea drew up an extra budget totalling 11.6 trillion won.
The 20 trillion won mentioned by Chin appears to be the total amount of the extra budget under preparation.
The government’s 2020 budget is already a record 512.5 trillion won.
Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha, meanwhile, said the government’s current special immigration process for travellers coming from China is “working well,’’ rejecting calls to ban all Chinese from entering South Korea.
Since Feb. 4, South Korea has imposed an entry ban on foreigners who visited or travelled through the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the virus outbreak, in the past 14 days.
It is also implementing stricter screening processes at an airport for all passengers coming from China.
Critics called for an expansion of the entry ban to all Chinese to better contain the risk of infections.
“Ensuring the safety of people is a top priority, but there are other factors to be considered.
“If we completely impose an entry ban on Chinese, Korean nationals might not be able to make necessary travel to China,’’ Kang said.