Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Cabinet approves SARS budget plan to ease tensions

EMERGENCY FUND The NT$50 billion budget is expected to pass through the legislature by May 23 and offer cash relief for the disease outbreak

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Executive Yuan yesterday approved the NT$50 billion special budget request earmarked to subsidize SARS-related medical expenses and mitigate the economic impact on the country's local industries.

If all goes well, Premier Yu Shyi-kun is scheduled to deliver a special report on the budget request in the legislature on Friday.

The Cabinet hopes the budget proposal will pass the legislature by May 23.

Addressing the press conference held after an emergency meeting called to discuss the budget request yesterday afternoon, Yu said that while 60 percent, or about NT$30 billion, of the special budget would be used to subsidize medical expenses, the remaining 40 percent, or about NT$20 billion, would be for the mitigation of the economic impact on local industry.

"Apart from the NT$7 billion we'd raise on our own as approved by the legislature, we will borrow the remaining NT$43 billion, which would be exempted from the legal am-ount the government can borrow," Yu said.

According to Director General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics Liu San-chi (劉三錡), half of the NT$7 billion would come from the annual surplus of the China Steel Corp and the other half would come from the leftover budget of the Ministry of Finance.

During a videoconference with President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) yesterday afternoon, Yu said that the president voiced optimism about the progress of the outbreak.

"If we can effectively prevent mass and community transmissions, the outbreak should be brought under control in four to five weeks at the earliest or in six to seven weeks at the latest," Yu quoted Chen as saying.

Chen also expressed his support for the government's resolve in fully implementing SARS prevention measures.

"There's no magic elixir to restrain the outbreak. It takes cooperation among the central and local governments and effective implementation of prevention initiatives," Yu quoted Chen as saying. "Only with strict enforcement of the prevention measures can we effectively control the outbreak."

To prevent unnecessary panic, Chen instructed the Cabinet to ensure the ample supply of masks.

"In addition to locally man-ufactured and imported masks, the government should negotiate with the military to provide sufficient supply," Yu quoted Chen as saying.

Yu revealed yesterday that he will hold videoconferences with Chen at least twice a week to discuss the development of the outbreak in addition to his weekly meeting with the president on Tuesdays at the DPP's Central Standing Committee meeting and face-to-face meetings on Thursday.

As Japan has voiced its support for the nation's bid to join the World Health Organization (WHO), Yu yesterday said that Japan is not the only country expressing such an intent.

"As far as I know, South Korea, Singapore, the US and other countries have expressed their concerns about our bid to enter the international body, both officially and unofficially," Yu said. "They've also voiced their concerns about the outbreak here and offered to help."

On Sunday, Japanese Health and Welfare Minister Chikara Sakaguchi said Japan backed Taiwan's bid to rejoin WHO as an observer and was considering sending doctors and medical supplies to Taiwan to help Taiwan fight SARS.

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