I understand everyone must be busy now, but I have come here because I am very concerned about the situation. The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases surpassed 300 today. This number can increase to 900 and over 1,000 again in a matter of days. It seems we are facing the greatest crisis since Korea’s first COVID-19 outbreak. Seoul is at the center of this crisis. A half of the Republic of Korea’s entire population lives in and around this city in a very densely populated area. Moreover, there are many people who travel back and forth between Seoul and provincial areas every day. It can be said that if the frontlines of epidemic prevention and control collapse in Seoul, defensive lines everywhere around the country can be breached all at once.
Some say the absence of Seoul’s mayor during this grave situation has left a huge vacuum. However, that is not necessarily the case. The Acting Mayor has been carrying out his role sufficiently. Taking it a step further, I urge him to exert his full mayoral authority. I hope the Acting Mayor will take on his mission with the determination that the safety of the entire Republic of Korea can be protected only when the frontlines of epidemic prevention and control in Seoul are secure.
As you know, the key process for the success of Korea’s response to COVID-19 is rapidly identifying close contacts for testing, and then quarantining or treating patients in a speedy manner according to the test results.
However, some groups are now using highly organized methods to hamper such rapid epidemiological investigations and disease fighting measures. Some people are even physically impeding or disrupting epidemic prevention efforts on the ground. In addition, they are thwarting the Government’s epidemiological investigations and epidemic prevention measures by spreading a massive amount of fake news. I ask the Seoul Metropolitan Government to mobilize all of its available administrative resources to counter such acts.
I believe what is more important than anything else is making a quick, preemptive and resolute response. People must not be allowed into those places that have necessitated entry restrictions. Gatherings must be prohibited in those areas where gatherings are banned. Necessary data must be secured through swift administrative investigations when needed. In the process of doing so, if the Seoul Metropolitan Government decides that it is limited in what it can do, it should seek assistance from the police and the Central Government.
I urge the police and Central Government to provide full support should any be requested by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. If anyone attempts to disturb epidemiological investigations or epidemic prevention and control efforts, it is necessary to take strict legal action by applying not only the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act but also criminal statutes, including the prohibition on obstructing government officials from carrying out their duties. If necessary, I urge you to strictly enforce the law, for instance, by arresting criminals in the act or filing arrest warrants. I hope you will make it perfectly clear to the people that the authority of the state is functioning well.
I believe that the exercise of state authority should be kept to a minimum during normal times. This is because individual human rights might be infringed upon if state authority is deployed. However, preventing this kind of infectious disease or responding to disasters and catastrophes goes beyond the realm of human rights issues. As these are directly related to the lives and safety of the entire population, the state should employ its authority fully to protect citizens.
If central and local governments, the police and prosecution cannot prevent the spread of infectious diseases even after combining their administrative capabilities and efforts, they should feel truly repentant to the people. Furthermore, if state authorities fail to swiftly conduct epidemiological investigations and take other necessary measures because they couldn’t sufficiently counter attempts to interfere with epidemic prevention and control efforts and epidemiological investigations, this would seriously undermine epidemic prevention efforts and be tantamount to a real public loss of face.
We have worked hard to date to take such countermeasures, but more preemptive, swift and resolute responses are required. Therefore, I ask the Seoul Metropolitan Government to serve as the principal agent and the police, prosecution and Central Government to cooperate by providing all possible support to ensure that the necessary epidemiological investigations and other epidemic prevention and control measures are implemented quickly.