(ATTN: REWRITES headline; UPDATES with more info from para 10)
SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will take additional measures to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, if needed, after checking the situation not only in China's Hubei Province but also in other areas, the prime minister said Wednesday.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun's remarks apparently signal that the government could weigh the possibility for expanding its entry ban on foreigners who came from or through the ground-zero Chinese province in the past 14 days.
"The government will take necessary measures by thoroughly checking (the situation) not only in China's Hubei Province but also in its surrounding areas," Chung said at a meeting on the virus among presidential, government and ruling party officials.
"If necessary, the government will support conducting (coronavirus) tests for those who do not travel from China," he added.
To step up quarantine efforts, South Korea began barring foreigners Tuesday who visited or traveled through the Hubei province in the past two weeks. Wuhan, known as the epicenter of the outbreak, is located in the province.
South Korea has reported 16 confirmed cases, of which two patients were infected with the virus after visiting Japan and Thailand.
Concerns about the fast spread of the virus are deepening as China has reported at least 490 confirmed deaths and more than 23,500 infected people.
"The government will thoroughly prepare for the possibility that the virus further spreads and the situation is drawn out," Chung said.
The prime minister added that the government will draw up measures to support exporters, the tourism sector and small merchants to help minimize negative impacts from the outbreak on the economy.
The participants in the meeting agreed to mobilize 3.4 trillion won (US$2.9 billion) in reserve funds to swiftly support quarantine efforts and support businesses hit by the outbreak.
But they did not make a decision on whether to impose an additional entry ban on foreign travelers coming from areas in China beyond Hubei.
"The travel ban and special quarantine screening kicked off yesterday," Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo, senior spokesman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), told a press briefing.
"(Whether to take additional measures) will be a matter to be decided after observing the government's action and China's situation," he added.
The ruling party said it asked the government to extend a deadline for the payment of state taxes and to suspend tax inspections for small firms and exporters affected by the virus.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki was quoted as saying that the government will consider the DP's proposals.
Hong added that the education ministry will soon unveil ways to postpone the opening of the spring semester and handle Chinese students after consulting with universities.
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