(ATTN: UPDATES with more info throughout)
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 18 confirmed cases, of which three patients were infected with the virus after visiting Japan, Thailand and Singapore.
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.
Meanwhile, the government is said to seek a meeting between the foreign ministers of South Korea and China on the sidelines of a security conference set for next week in Germany.
The move is aimed at making joint efforts to fight the virus outbreak and seeking close consultations over Chinese President Xi Jinping's planned visit to South Korea.
The Munich Security Conference (MSC) is scheduled for Feb. 14-16. China is reportedly seeking to send its top diplomat Wang Yi to the forum.
"The media is raising the possibility that the outbreak may affect Xi's visit to South Korea. But there have been no unusual signs so far," the government said after briefing the participants of the trilateral meeting earlier in the day.
The presidential office Cheong Wa Dae earlier said Xi will visit Seoul in the first half of the year, amid speculation that the South is pushing for his visit between March and April.
It dismissed a news report that Xi's trip will be postponed to June due to the outbreak.
The government also said the coronavirus outbreak has a limited impact on the economy but could deal a blow to the petrochemical, machinery and display sectors.
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