Fellow Koreans, we are now facing the greatest crisis since COVID-19 broke out in our country. We have been successful thus far in the war against this virus. The success is due to the dedication of disease control authorities and medical professionals as well as the people’s voluntary cooperation and mature civic awareness.
In ways few countries could emulate, we have conducted rapid testing and epidemiological investigations as well as the thorough quarantining of contacts and prompt treatment of infected patients. We have managed to safeguard people’s precious lives by detecting confirmed cases early and preventing the virus from spreading further. Korea’s response to COVID-19 – achieved without border closures, regional lockdowns or an economic shutdown – has been lauded as a model for the world. Thanks to this, Korea is seen as the OECD’s most successful member state in terms of managing the economy. Our country’s international standing has been enhanced, and the people have come to recognize our capabilities again and take pride in them.
However, we are now at a new critical juncture. We are in an emergency situation that is much graver than that of the earlier COVID-19 outbreak that involved members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Seoul and its surrounding areas have become the center of the virus’s spread, leaving no region in the country safe from the disease. What constitutes a hotbed of COVID-19 spread in particular are acts in some quarters of our society that challenge the public health emergency system and explicitly impede epidemic prevention and control efforts while refusing to cooperate. This is a desperate moment of crisis when the number infected from an unknown source could increase, transmitting COVID-19 to anyone, and when the number of the infected could soar anytime and anyplace if we let our guard down even the slightest bit.
Together with the people, the Government will certainly prevail over the gravest of crises which we now face. We will never overlook illegal acts that harm the people’s lives and safety. Malicious and organized impediments to disease fighting efforts and the distribution of fake news are anti-social crimes that impair our community. Also, uncooperative attitudes that defy executive orders and acts of individual noncompliance, such as breaking out of quarantine, cannot be condoned.
These acts have already inflicted such immense damage on the public. They have undermined the lives and health of many people, brought our daily lives to a halt and pummeled our economy and employment. They have dealt a fatal blow to the service industry, including tourism and the performing arts that had just gotten some breathing room. Worse yet, they have made post-downpour recovery efforts even more difficult.
No one is allowed to claim freedom of religion, assembly or expression while harming other people so tremendously. The Government will clearly establish the strict fairness of state authority as a means to protect the public’s safety and wellbeing.
I ask the medical community to refrain from collective action. At a time when we have to gather national capabilities to prevent the spread of COVID-19, collective action that puts people’s lives at risk can never garner support. One can oppose or criticize government policies, but such acts should not go beyond legitimate boundaries. In order to protect the people’s right to live, the Government has no other choice but to sternly respond to such illegal collective actions as the suspension of medical treatments and temporary closures.
There is no question that our society needs to expand public health services. Medical professionals will also agree with that. It is fortunate that residents and interns decided to cooperate with essential COVID-19-related work yesterday, including the securing of intensive care units, the operation of screening centers and the treatment of confirmed cases. I hope they can accept the Government’s proposal to pull together to overcome the COVID-19 crisis first and then seek a solution through dialogue after the situation has stabilized.
The Government will work with extraordinary decisiveness. We will thoroughly implement the Level 2 social distancing guidelines that began to be applied nationwide yesterday. We will mobilize all resources in cooperation with local governments to build a stronger regional epidemic prevention and control network, for instance, by increasing the number of epidemiological investigators and disease prevention and control personnel. In particular, we will ensure that no confirmed COVID-19 patients are denied proper treatment due to a shortage of beds in the face of a surge in their number. We will also make sure that there are no setbacks – not only in the securing of enough general beds and residential treatment centers but also with the preparing of beds for critically ill patients.
The power to break through the current emergency situation lies in the people, who are the principal agents of epidemic prevention and control. I earnestly ask everyone to cooperate and comply with prevention and control guidelines under Level 2 social distancing. Among other things, I would like to emphasize once again that face masks should be worn at all times, everywhere.
If we cannot stop this current outbreak, there will be no choice but to raise social distancing to Level 3, the highest restrictions. Such a measure is not something we can consider lightly. Our daily routines will be suspended, and jobs will be lost. We will have to endure a truly enormous economic blow. Even the medical system can collapse. I ask everyone to join forces to prevent the worst situation.
Last weekend, people helped prevent a surge in infections by cancelling vacation trips, avoiding going out and enduring many other inconveniences. Most of those who were advised to take COVID-19 tests swiftly complied. Religious entities have also mostly cooperated by offering contact-free services. I express my gratitude to everyone.
Thanks to the people working together, we have had faith in the prospect of our epidemic prevention efforts keeping COVID-19 under control up until now. Despite having to endure inconveniences, overcoming this state of emergency at an early stage will be the quickest way to return to all daily routines, such as going to work and school, enjoying culture and attending religious services.
The Government will also do all it can to ease the hardships of those who suffered enormous damage from the unprecedented long monsoon and torrential rains. We declared additional special disaster zones today. The Government completed its damage inspections very quickly compared to the past and significantly increased the amount of disaster relief payments. We will finalize the recovery plan as soon as possible, minimizing the actual time needed for support. However, it is true that government support alone is far from enough. I ask the people to share difficulties together as well.
It is very worrisome that yet another typhoon is forecast this week. We are in a situation where we have to hasten emergency recovery as much as possible while preemptively bracing for a typhoon. It is an arduous summer in many ways as the monsoon, torrential rains, sweltering heat and typhoons are adding to the difficulty of battling COVID-19 with no end in sight. My sympathy goes out to the people, and I ask everyone to surmount this crisis together.