Kerala budget: New Finance Minister KN Balagopal announces $2.8 billion COVID-19 package

Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala Finance Minister KN Balagopal on Friday announced a Rs 20,000 crore ($2.8 billion) COVID-19 package for the state that has seen nearly 26 lakh (2.6 million) cases and over 9,200 deaths so far.

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He said vaccines to all above 18 years would be given free and for that Rs 1,000 crore have been set aside in the package.

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In his first budget speech, the 57-year-old Balagopal also said: “It would include Rs 2,800 crore for emergency COVID-19 situation; Rs 8,900 crore for those who have had serious issues with their livelihoods; Rs 8,300 crore will be used for providing interest subsidies.”

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This is the second COVID-19 package that has been announced by the Pinarayi Vijayan government, the first came in March last year which was also to the tune of Rs 20,000 crores.

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Balagopal just before leaving his residence with the budget papers in his hands had said his budget would emphasize on tackling the pandemic.

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“COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll of the economy and we have decided to consider health of prime importance,” said Balagopal in his speech in the assembly.

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Taking a dig of the Centre’s vaccine policy, he said the export of vaccines was not done in a professional way.

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Rs 635 crore has been set aside to strengthen the health centres across the state besides new blocks will be build in Medical Colleges.

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Rs 50 lakh has been set aside to start the preliminary studies for setting up a centre here similar to the US-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Balagopal said.

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The first case of COVID-19 in the country was identified in Thrissur in the state in January 2020 and presently there are around 1.92 lakhs active cases and the daily test positivity rate for the past three days has been hovering around 15 per cent.

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A post graduate in Commerce and a Masters in Law, Balagopal, is a first time legislator.

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