By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 2 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Monday it has decided to take additional steps to support local shipping firms and passenger ferry operators amid growing concerns over economic fallout from the global spread of the new coronavirus.
Last month, South Korea announced a set of measures to support the firms, including distributing 60 billion won (US$49.7 million) for passenger line operators and port cargo handling firms.
The country, however, decided to roll out additional measures as the global epidemic of COVID-19 has dealt a harsh blow to the trade of goods with not only China but the rest of the world as well, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries said in a statement.
Under the updated plan, South Korea will provide some 90 billion won in low-interest loans of around 2 percent to local shipping firms should the virus outbreak continue for more than three months. Each company can apply for up to 5 billion won.
Also, the deadline for the mandatory installment of environment-friendly equipment on ships, originally set for end-March, will be delayed until three months after the new coronavirus is fully terminated, it added.
The country will lend support to passenger line operators as well.
South Korea, which earlier vowed to fully exempt the firms from port dues until their schedules to China are normalized, said the same policy will be applied for operators of Japanese routes.
The country's four ferry operators, meanwhile, saw their number of passengers decrease more than 80 percent over the Feb. 1-26 period from a year earlier amid the spread of the novel virus.
"We plan to take preemptive actions to minimize damage to local maritime firms amid the spread of COVID-19," Oceans Minister Moon Seong-hyeok said. "South Korea will continue to see if there are any other difficulties facing the businesses."
South Korea reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20.
More than 3,700 people have been infected with the potentially deadly virus that has killed 21 people here as of Sunday.
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