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(2nd LD) S. Korea readies 'all options' to tackle economic fallout from new coronavirus

All News 16:19 February 05, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details, remarks in paras 10-12)

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea will spare no efforts to minimize the economic impact of the rapidly spreading new coronavirus, Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Wednesday, amid rising concerns about the economic fallout.

Hong described the economic impact of the virus as "grave," adding that "all measures" will be prepared to mitigate its potential economic impact.

Hong said small businesses, which are already suffering, will be provided with financial and taxation support.

The government will deal sternly with the hoarding of face masks and other hygiene products, Hong told a meeting with economic ministers.

The government has been closely monitoring the industries expected to be affected most, such as exporters, hotels and restaurants, transportation services and small businesses.

South Korea has 18 confirmed cases of the virus, believed to have originated in the Chinese central city of Wuhan. The virus has killed about 490 people in China's Hubei Province, where Wuhan is the capital city.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki speaks at a meeting with economic ministers on curbing the spread of a new coronavirus on Feb. 5. 2020.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki speaks at a meeting with economic ministers on curbing the spread of a new coronavirus on Feb. 5. 2020.

The virus outbreak has already disrupted the supply of auto parts. Hyundai Motors and Kia Motors said they have suspended assembly lines here due to shortages of parts from China.

Hyundai Motor halted the assembly lines for the production of the carmaker's independent brand Genesis's sedan models at its No. 5 plant in Ulsan, 414 kilometers southeast of Seoul, from Tuesday.

The automaker said it plans to gradually halt assembly lines at the remaining four plants in Ulsan by Friday, with its two other domestic plants, in Jeonju and Asan, also scheduled to halt operations by the same day.

Other carmakers -- GM Korea, SsangYong Motor and Renault Samsung Motors -- have also suspended assembly lines or are considering halting lines.

The government is reviewing plans to support carmakers and will unveil support measures this week or next week, Hong told reporters.

The government will do its utmost to prevent the economy from losing its recovery momentum, Hong said.

South Korea's economy grew 2 percent last year, marking the slowest growth in a decade. The Bank of Korea expected the nation's economy to grow 2.3 percent this year.

On Tuesday, South Korea approved tougher penalties for the hoarding of protective masks.

Under the tougher penalties, a person who hoards protective masks will face a prison sentence of a maximum two years or a maximum fine of 50 million won (US$42,108), officials said.

Such penalties go into effect Wednesday, according to the ministry.

During the meeting, Hong said the government will require a person will need to get approval to leave the country with more than 1,000 face masks.

Market manipulation of protective masks, such as price rigging, will be treated as an administrative and criminal offense, Hong said.

The supply of masks has not met demand in South Korea, with industry watchers blaming Chinese tourists and merchants for going on a buying binge here to protect themselves from the coronavirus.


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