The daily COVID-19 caseload in Korea descended into the 300s and seemed likely to fall further, but the number has increased again due to infection clusters at some religious facilities. This repeated pattern has caused prolonged difficulties in the livelihoods of the self-employed and others. I feel deeply heavyhearted. In particular, I very much regret not being able to accommodate demands to lift restrictions on business hours by at least an hour. A final decision must be postponed yet again.
With a heavy heart, I must– as with the Chuseok break – once again urge everyone to refrain from visiting hometowns and traveling during the coming Lunar New Year holiday. The Government is anxiously hoping to ease epidemic prevention measures by bringing the COVID-19 situation under control as soon as possible and to help relieve people’s hardships.
Amid this situation, it is very fortunate and appreciated that religious communities have voiced self reflection and are pledging to cooperate with epidemic control efforts. A little more patience on the part of the people with that spirit in mind will certainly help reduce the spread of infections as early as possible and alleviate anti-epidemic restrictions.
The Government will do everything possible to prevent the further spread of the virus and enable people to be vaccinated under stable conditions. To that end, we will thoroughly oversee high-risk facilities that have recently caused immense burdens in the fight against COVID-19, including unaccredited religious and educational organizations, nursing hospitals and crowded establishments.
Preparations for vaccination are proceeding as scheduled without any disruption. Moreover, the international vaccine distribution alliance facility COVAX has recently allocated some of its doses to us, making it possible to receive a portion of our vaccine supplies earlier than expected. Some vaccine doses produced by Korean pharmaceutical companies serving as contract manufacturers will be provided to us right away. This will facilitate a faster and stable inoculation.
The Government will do all it can to ensure that more people get inoculated in accordance with the predetermined priorities. In addition, we will disclose the entire transport, storage and inoculation process to the public in a transparent manner. At the same time, we have no other choice but to take stern measures against any attempt to instigate public anxiety or interfere with vaccinations by spreading fake news or misinformation. I ask all of our people to cooperate with vaccinations as they have with epidemic prevention and control.
Lunar New Year this year will be somewhat different due to COVID-19. However, warm-hearted consideration for our neighbors in need still remains one of our time-honored traditions and virtues. In particular, this year, there are many farms struggling due to poor harvests caused by abnormal weather events and avian influenza. If people use traditional markets and more of our homegrown agricultural, livestock and fishery products, they will be able to contribute greatly to boosting domestic demand and consumption while helping farming and fishing communities that are facing difficulties.
The Government will do its best to stabilize consumer prices that might fluctuate in the run-up to Lunar New Year holiday. During this time, we will supply an abundance of the 16 high-demand holiday products and implement measures to stabilize supply and demand as planned in order to prevent price increases for livestock products such as eggs.
The repeated extension of epidemic prevention and control measures adds to the hardships of microbusiness owners and the self-employed, and the lives of the vulnerable are becoming more difficult. The third round of emergency relief payments, including the funds to buttress microbusiness owners and the emergency employment stability support funds, is being distributed quickly. However, the payments fall far short of preventing continued damage. We will have to find a practical way for our society to collectively shoulder the losses and pain. Along with the efforts to prepare institutional means to compensate for losses caused by the Government’s anti-epidemic restrictions, we have to devise support measures to cover damage that occurs in the meantime.
It is a time for the Government, National Assembly and the ruling and opposition parties to pool their wisdom and gather their strengths to this end. Moreover, when people are struggling to make ends meet, no one should set our politics back by stirring up confrontation with the kind of politics that hark back to vestiges of an old era that must be forsaken. I look forward to politicians working together while competing to come up with policies that better solve issues related to people’s livelihoods.
One more special effort that our Government should undertake is to significantly reduce the number of deaths linked to industrial accidents. In the shadows of our economic development still linger many fatal industrial accidents, and in particular there has been no end to those seen as backward that break people’s hearts.
We take pride in being one of the world’s top 10 economic powerhouses, but we still remain an underdeveloped country in terms of industrial safety. Our Government has redoubled efforts to reduce industrial accidents by raising the number of industrial safety supervisors, revising the Occupational Safety and Health Act and enacting a statute to punish businesses for severe accidents. However, we have yet to achieve tangible improvement that people can sense. There is no choice but to further prioritize these policies and strengthen the Government’s capabilities and efforts. I ask you to quickly devise a plan that can significantly reinforce the function and structure of an industrial accident prevention organization to make it more capable and professional.