Taiwan passes $2 billion package to soften coronavirus hit to economy

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan’s parliament approved a T$60 billion ($2 billion) package on Tuesday to help cushion the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on its export-reliant economy.

The package includes loans for small businesses, subsidies for hard-hit tour agencies, tax cuts for tour bus drivers and even vouchers to spend on food in Taiwan’s famous night markets, normally a top attraction for foreign tourists.

Taiwan, whose largest trading partner is China, cut its estimate for 2020 economic growth this month as the outbreak threatens its economy, which is a key part of the global electronics supply chain.

“Although there are waves after waves of challenges, as long as everyone is united, Taiwan will definitely pass this test,” President Tsai Ing-wen told reporters, after signing the package into law at the presidential office.

The bill was passed with rare bipartisan support in parliament, and only a little more than a week after the government proposed it.

“Our common enemy is the virus. The 23 million people in Taiwan will definitely not be defeated,” Hung Mong-kai, a lawmaker from Taiwan’s main opposition Kuomintang party, told parliament after the bill was passed. “God bless Taiwan.”

The island has logged 31 cases of the virus and one death, and has largely suspended travel and tourism links with China to curb its spread. China has reported more than 2,600 deaths.

Included in the stimulus legislation is a clause penalizing people who violate government-mandated home quarantine orders, with those in breach possibly facing a T$2 million fine or two years in jail.

Taiwan has reported several cases of people who were supposed to be in quarantine going missing, posing a potential threat to public health.

Reporting by Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Raju Gopalakrishnan