SEOUL, Jan. 6 (Korea Bizwire) — 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 in response to the pandemic, including the 14.3 trillion-won stimulus checks for all households doled out in May.
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.
Shop owners will receive funds of up to 3 million won depending on the nature of their businesses. Owners of facilities that have been suspended under the country’s social distancing rules will receive the highest amount, according to the ministry.
Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom said it is too early for the government to mention about another round of relief funds, an idea being floated by the ruling party.
The Democratic Party has kicked off its deliberations for a fourth round of emergency funds, exploring whether to provide the money to all households.
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.