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Government to roll out relief measures to counter coronavirus impact

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Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday announced an initial package of relief measures to quickly aid industries affected by the ongoing outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus, now officially designated as COVID-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The premier said that in addition to immediate economic relief, the government hopes that the measures will lead to improved fundamentals and competiveness among Taiwan's companies.

The premier's remarks came at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet following a joint presentation on the impact of and government response to the virus by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, National Development Council, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Council of Agriculture and Ministry of Transportation and Communications.

Following a multi-agency assessment, a special budget on the scale of NT$60 billion (US$2 billion) has been proposed to help businesses, said Premier Su. Relief and stimulus measures should target restaurants, retail, shopping districts, night markets, traditional markets, expo centers and other businesses that promote domestic demand. Also to be included are agriculture, tourism and transportation. The premier directed ministries and agencies to proceed with the aims of distributing benefits equally, achieving immediate results, improving overall conditions, and accelerating public works projects. Premier Su also said that prior to legislative action and approval of the special budget, the Executive Yuan will redirect available funds to quickly roll out relief measures.

All agencies involved must develop a deep understanding of the sectors affected, Premier Su said. The government should evenly extend support to industries affected by the outbreak, especially already economically vulnerable businesses and workers.

Ministries and agencies should take a generous approach in administering relief and loosen eligibility requirements, the premier said. Nevertheless, concrete objectives and realistic timelines are necessary to ensure that suffering enterprises benefit from quick and impactful results.

As for restaurants, hotels and tourist destinations whose businesses can be affected throughout the duration of the active outbreak, Premier Su emphasized that ministries and agencies should take this as an opportunity for reinforcement and enhancement. This includes upgrading basic infrastructure, improving the overall environment, and completing renovation, repair and beautification work.

Raising the infrastructure implementation rate will boost domestic investment momentum and help stabilize the economy, Premier Su said. Where appropriate, ministries and agencies should expand and augment public works programs that drive domestic demand, particularly during this period as the nation combats the virus; infrastructure projects already underway should also be completed as quickly as possible. Agencies were instructed to itemize infrastructure projects that can be launched ahead of schedule or bid out quickly, or come up with methods for improving implementation rates.

The government must not only steer infrastructure policy but also ensure the projects are completed in the most efficient manner possible, the premier continued. For every 1 percent increase in the infrastructure implementation rate, public investment will increase by NT$5.4 billion (US$179.8 million). This multiplier effect can help generate greater industrial value while mitigating any adverse impacts.

In addition to introducing short-term relief measures for businesses affected by the outbreak, the administration will provide stimulus and support for industrial upgrading and transformation over the medium and long term. Where urgent assistance is needed, the government can redirect funding from the current year's budget, or apply provisions under the Disaster Prevention and Protection Act, the premier said.

The risk of coronavirus transmission is currently high at the global level, according to the WHO's February 11 situation report. In Taiwan however, there has been no community spread of the virus nor noticeable increases in the number of confirmed cases, and patients are recovering fairly well. This effective containment of the outbreak demonstrates the government's success at unifying the strength of the nation against the virus, the premier pointed out.

Even with the impact of the Wuhan coronavirus, Taiwan is expected to maintain gross domestic product growth of approximately 2.37 percent for 2020, according to an economic forecast issued Wednesday by the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics.

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