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N. Korea increases budget for health, construction projects amid anti-virus efforts

All News 10:42 April 13, 2020

By Yi Wonju

SEOUL, April 13 (Yonhap) -- North Korea has increased its health budget for this year and set aside nearly half of the total spending plans for economic construction projects amid efforts to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus in an economy faltering under global sanctions.

During a session of the Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) in Pyongyang on Sunday, the North forecast that its revenue will grow 4.2 percent on-year this year with its expenditures projected to increase 6 percent over the same period, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

According to the KCNA, the North has increased spending on economic construction projects this year by 6.2 percent on-year, accounting for 47.8 percent of the total spending.

In particular, North Korea announced a 7.4 percent increase in its spending on public health this year, reflecting its ongoing fight against the COVID-19 virus and a recently announced plan to build a large-scale general hospital in Pyongyang.

"Funds needed for pushing forward key construction projects whose completion is due by this year including Pyongyang General Hospital and installation of an oxygen separator ... are to be provided as planned," the KCNA said.

Although North Korea has not reported any case of the virus, speculation persists it might be concealing an outbreak that is possibly spiraling out of control.

It has called for nationwide efforts to prevent the virus from breaking out on its soil through intensified border controls and a tightened quarantine process, and declaring the launch of a national emergency system against the new coronavirus.

Anti-virus measures, including border controls with its largest trading partner, China, have further dealt a blow to the economy that had long been faltering under sanctions.

The increased budget in construction projects appears to reflect the North's will to push ahead with a "frontal breakthrough" despite ongoing anti-virus measures and challenges in the economy.

The expenditure for the fields of the national economy has increased by 7.2 percent, including in metal, chemical, electrical power, coal, railway transport, light industry and agriculture.

The North also finalized this year's budget plan by setting defense spending at 15.9 percent, a slight increase from last year's 15.8 percent.

The SPA usually holds a plenary session every April, mostly to deal with the state budget and Cabinet reshuffle. Such meetings have been closely monitored abroad for any glimpse into the reclusive country's policy direction.

North Korea's Supreme People's Assembly holds a meeting at the Mansudae Assembly Hall in Pyongyang on April 12, 2020, in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not attend the meeting, which dealt with budgetary issues and the election of new members of the powerful State Affairs Commission led by Kim. (For Use Only in the Republic of Korea. No Redistribution) (Yonhap)

julesyi@yna.co.kr
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