Leaders of four business bodies in the auto industry in Japan said Friday they will set up a new fund to support manufacturers in the auto sector struggling with slumping demand caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The fund is designed to "mutually help struggling manufacturers," Akio Toyoda, chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, told reporters in an online press conference, suggesting that larger and healthier members will provide funding to smaller or ailing ones.

"Protecting employment is a powerful force to help stop the collapse of the economy," said Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp. He cited the industry's presence in the Japanese economy, providing about 5.5 million jobs equivalent to approximately 10 percent of the country's working population.

Toyoda said the investments in the new fund by automakers should come out of manufacturers' profits and be considered tax deductible, but that in the long run this would benefit the nation by preventing firms from going under and mean that more tax would be paid to the nation in the future. He stopped short of elaborating on the scale of the planned fund or how it would work.

The industry groups also said they plan to offer a total of 3,000 rooms at their vacant dormitories and welfare facilities to patients with mild symptoms of COVID-19 to help ease concerns over shortages of hospital beds.

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