Based on what we have achieved so far, the Government has eased social distancing rules, effective today, trusting in our epidemic prevention and control capabilities. We have downgraded social distancing nationwide to Level 1. However, we have decided to apply epidemic control measures flexibly in accordance with regional situations, for example, by maintaining some Level 2 social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan area.
This social distancing adjustment is the result of the current situation where the number of daily confirmed COVID-19 cases has stayed stable. The decision was also based on the fact that the spread of infections is leveling off as seen by the drop in the basic reproduction number. In addition, there are enough medical professionals to deal with the situation thanks to a decrease in the number of severely-ill patients and an expansion of hospital beds. In particular, we have also taken into consideration the fatigue of citizens and the difficulties in people’s livelihoods being exacerbated by the long extension of enhanced epidemic prevention and control measures.
Notwithstanding the adjustment of social distancing requirements, we will ensure that there will be no breach in epidemic prevention and control management at high-risk establishments that draw crowds and other facilities. While minimizing the suspension of these facilities’ operations or their shutdown, we will implement more precise and effective epidemic prevention and control measures, according to the risks associated with different facilities and business sectors. As these establishments assume greater autonomy, they will be laden with correspondingly heavier responsibilities. Those violating epidemic prevention guidelines can be held more accountable as the revised Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act stipulates the imposition of fines, suspension of business and the right to recourse. Everyone must take responsibility to ensure that health and daily routines are secure. I ask for our people’s understanding and cooperation.
In the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, Korea once had the second largest number of confirmed cases in the world. There were critical moments following those days that could have led to a resurgence of the virus. But we overcame all of those moments successfully. As of today, we are effectively surmounting the critical period after the Chuseok break that could have triggered the worst crisis yet. Globally, the number of daily new confirmed cases exceeded 350,000, a record high. Consequently, many countries around the world are strengthening various emergency measures. However, I can confidently say that compared to those countries, Korea is faring exceptionally well.
The easing of epidemic prevention measures this time is based on the confidence that we can keep COVID-19 under control. However, I’d be hard-pressed to say that we do not have concerns. Several times, we have seen how a moment of carelessness can lead to the virus spreading uncontrollably, and we are all too aware of how hard it is to get back to where we were before. In particular, I would like to ask our people once more to faithfully follow the epidemic prevention measures and safety guidelines that remain in place to prevent such resurgences. The Government will also work with more extraordinary determination to ensure that the loosening of epidemic prevention and control measures this time serves as a stepping-stone to the continued easing of restrictions.
Our national status is rising; we are seen as “the crisis-resistant Republic of Korea,” having proven our strength in dealing with both the economy and epidemic prevention and control amid the global COVID-19 crisis. All credit should go to the Korean people. Everything was possible because our people carry a gene to overcome obstacles through firmer unity and collective strength during times of crisis.
With faith in the people, the Government will renew its commitment and step up efforts. We will become a more reliable government that safeguards their lives and safety against crises and fulfills its responsibility to protect the economy and their livelihoods. By producing more tangible results in our epidemic prevention and control efforts and further accelerating economic recovery, we will strive to emerge as a country that succeeds on both fronts.
What is most heartbreaking is the fact that many are suffering economically as the COVID-19 pandemic is prolonged. With a heavy heart, I think about those who lost their job or cannot find one; employees in the travel, tourism, arts and culture, and other industries hit directly by COVID-19; and the small and micro-business owners and the self-employed undergoing difficulties due to rapid declines in sales. I hope that lowering the social distancing level this time will serve as an opportunity for them to muster their strength once more.
The Government will do all it can to revitalize our economy at the earliest date possible. I ask the people to stand together with the Government. I also ask everyone to work together as the principal agents for epidemic prevention to protect each other’s safety during daily activities as there is no end in sight to the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope all of us as economic stakeholders will join forces to revive our economy.