SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea plans to provide a huge chunk of its emergency handouts to smaller merchants hit hard by the new coronavirus outbreak by the Lunar New Year's holiday in early February, the finance minister said Wednesday.
The country plans to provide 9.3 trillion won (US$8.6 billion) in relief funds to small businesses stung by state-imposed shutdowns over virus cases and the self-employed reeling from the economic fallout of the pandemic.
"The government will start to provide the emergency handouts on Monday and 90 percent of the handouts by the Lunar New Year's holiday," Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said at a meeting on emergency economic responses, referring to the holiday that will run from Feb. 11-13.
It marks the third round of emergency handouts catered toward smaller merchants hit hard by the pandemic. The country has so far drawn up four rounds of pandemic relief packages, including 14.3 trillion won in stimulus checks to all households.
Smaller merchants and self-employed people have been under growing burdens of paying rent due largely to the government's order to suspend their businesses amid the protracted virus outbreak.
Hong also said the government will spend some 1 trillion won to buy coronavirus vaccines, including doses for 20 million people from U.S. biotech company Moderna.
The country expects vaccinations to begin in February for health workers and the elderly.
South Korea has secured COVID-19 vaccines to inoculate 56 million people, more than enough to cover the country's population of 52 million.
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