At this grave juncture in the most serious part of the crisis following waves of COVID-19 infections, I am personally presiding over today’s meeting to organize a full-scale response that mobilizes all of our country’s capabilities.
As of now, we are seeing vaccination rates rise worldwide. However, the whole world is suffering dearly yet again as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads rapidly. Globally, the number of confirmed cases has increased for four weeks in a row, with about 600,000 new cases reported daily, bringing the accumulated total to around 200 million. With the Delta variant becoming the dominant strain in Korea as well, this infectious disease is spreading in a much more extensive and quicker manner compared to the three previous COVID-19 waves. When it comes to infection patterns, they are no longer occurring mainly through specific establishments and groups of people. Rather, the virus is spreading – sporadically and extensively – through facilities frequented in our daily lives and common gatherings. With the socially active age groups comprising a high percentage of the confirmed cases, it is more challenging than ever to bring the infections under control.
Under these serious circumstances, we are now at a critical crossroads – either COVID-19 cases continue to rise or we stem the spread and bring it under control. This is a desperate time; the central and local governments, along with the people, must concentrate all administrative and anti-epidemic capabilities on waging an all-out fight against the virus.
In a sense of desperation, the Government has extended Level 4 social distancing in the Seoul metropolitan area for two more weeks to block the spread of the virus at the earliest date possible and turn the situation around. I feel truly sorry and much regret that people must endure a prolonged period of suffering. The intense measures used over the past two weeks have helped contain the spike in confirmed cases to some extent, though the spread has not leveled off. The extension is intended to ensure that such measures continue to take effect over the next two weeks, thereby decisively stemming the spread. It may be difficult and tough for people, but I ask for your cooperation and a bit more perseverance – just as you have been actively cooperating during the past two weeks – so we can overcome the current crisis quickly.
What has been most concerning recently is the spread beyond the Seoul metropolitan area. Due to the balloon effect from strengthened social distancing in the area and increased foot traffic mainly around vacation sites, the percentage of confirmed cases outside the metropolitan areas among the total has exceeded 35 percent. Hence, this virus is clearly spreading nationwide. As a response, we decided to implement enhanced epidemic prevention and control measures, including implementing Level 3 social distancing everywhere outside the metro area from tomorrow. I am grateful to the heads of local governments for their cooperation and determination to build a strong and close-knit anti-epidemic network.
Metropolitan Seoul and other areas as well as the central and local governments should pull together for an all-out, nationwide response. I ask you to double or triple the efforts to strengthen on-site inspections of infection-prone areas and facilities such as vacation destinations and crowded public places and strictly crack down on violations of epidemic prevention and control rules. Everything possible must be done for medical responses by, for instance, increasing the number of residential treatment centers and securing sufficient hospital beds. The leadership role of local governments is more important than ever. I urge them to thoroughly implement epidemic prevention measures that are tailored to regional characteristics. The Government will actively back the efforts of local governments and fully provide necessary support.
As epidemic prevention measures are extended and strengthened, I am overwhelmed with concern for microbusiness owners and the self-employed. We will do our utmost to alleviate their hardships, though admittedly in a small degree, by promptly implementing the supplementary budget plan, which passed early yesterday morning through cooperation from the National Assembly. Most of all, we will do everything we can to stabilize this situation as soon as possible and help their livelihoods return to normal.
Meanwhile, vaccinations will accelerate in earnest as those in their 50s start to get inoculated tomorrow. Shortcomings in the vaccine reservation system are also being quickly repaired. We will prepare so that the reservation of shots for those in their 40s and younger scheduled to start in August can proceed without any delays.
I extend my deep respect and gratitude once again to the people for actively cooperating to comply with the long-implemented epidemic prevention and control measures as well as to the quarantine experts, the medical professionals and frontline local public servants for their dedication and hard work as they struggle under a heat wave. It is very exemplary that the National Fire Agency and National Police Agency recently provided the personnel manning temporary screening stations some vehicles normally used to shelter members of their units during active duty. I ask each ministry and agency and local government to look closely for ways to alleviate their difficulties – even if only in a small way – for instance, by providing sufficient time and space for rest by offering products and equipment to keep them cool and deploying supplemental staff.
Nevertheless, there are limits on the use of military and police personnel and public servants as a makeshift force or temporary employees during a new pandemic wave like this one, so this cannot be sustained for long. I urge the central and local governments to gather their strong will when jointly preparing fundamental measures like the enhancement of public medical services and deployment of more public medical professionals such as nurses at community health centers.
We will eventually overcome this crisis as well. If the central and local governments and people join forces with the highest sense of urgency, we will certainly be able to prevail over the current crisis and move up the timetable for herd immunity and the recovery of daily lives and people’s livelihoods. If the current social distancing levels stay in place, there will be great difficulties not only for people’s livelihood but also in education and caregiving. The Government will do all it can to accelerate vaccinations while bringing the spread of COVID-19 under control.