SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun urged the National Assembly on Friday to swiftly pass the latest extra budget proposal, calling it "medicine" and a "vaccine" amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The government has submitted a 15 trillion won (US$13.2 billion) supplementary budget plan to finance the fourth round of COVID-19 relief for small businesses and vulnerable groups.
The new package is worth 19.5 trillion won, including 4.5 trillion won from this year's budget.
"This supplementary budget proposal is public welfare medicine aimed at easing the pain of desperate victim groups and a public welfare vaccine aimed at preventing further polarization," Chung said in a speech before the Assembly.
"It is time to build a model for K-recovery, in addition to K-antivirus measures," he said, referring to a government catchphrase used to describe the country's initial successes in containing the virus.
The fourth round of relief funds has been designed to support small businesses, the job market and the country's antivirus campaign, according to the finance ministry, which announced the plan on Tuesday.
The number of aid recipients has been set at 6.9 million people, which is 2 million more than under the previous round of handouts, with each person receiving up to 5 million won depending on the extent of their business losses.
"If the public's livelihoods collapse, the country's finances also collapse," Chung said. "Now is a time for active finances, if only to protect those finances."
The prime minister admitted that the nation's financial situation is under strain following four supplementary budgets last year, but he stressed that people's livelihoods must come first in the current unprecedented crisis.
"We have drawn up an extra budget proposal that is within our financial limits," he said. "I tear up when I think about all of you who are in distress ... The end of the dark tunnel is near. Please hang on."
Chung noted that the pandemic may leave a lasting scar due to deepened economic polarization and thanked the prominent businessmen who recently pledged to donate large amounts of their wealth.
He voiced confidence in restoring life to pre-pandemic days within the year, saying the "three beats" of the antivirus campaign -- public participation, vaccination and treatments -- have all been secured.
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