Today’s meeting has been convened to comprehensively check and discuss measures against new coronavirus infections. Mayors and provincial governors are also participating via video conferencing. Thank you for joining us. I urge the central and local governments to closely communicate and step up cooperation in order to prevent the spread of infections and minimize any negative impact on the economy for ordinary citizens.
From today, some 700 Koreans isolated in Wuhan, China, will begin to return home. It seems they will actually start arriving from tomorrow. I appreciate the airline responsible for chartering the flights and its crew for their cooperation. It is the natural duty of the state to protect its people’s lives and safety no matter where they are. As of now, it has been confirmed that there has not been a single patient who has tested positive or a suspected case among the Koreans in Wuhan. Moreover, in accordance with consultations with the Chinese government, only those who are screened and showing no symptoms will be allowed to board the chartered flights. Upon arrival, they will be quarantined in facilities isolated from outside contact and tested over a certain period. These measures are intended not only to ensure the safety of the returnees but also to prevent infections in local communities through airtight containment. The Government understands the concerns of the residents who live near the facilities that will temporarily house those quarantined after returning from Wuhan. The Government has put in place sufficient measures and will thoroughly oversee the situation to help alleviate their apprehension. I ask for the residents’ understanding and cooperation. Once again, I promise that they do not need to feel any unease. In addition, cooperation with the Chinese authorities will continue regarding those Koreans who will remain in China.
There can be no compromise when it comes to protecting public safety. Preparations should be made for all possible circumstances, and all necessary steps should be taken. The earlier preemptive preventive measures are employed, the more effective they are. These measures should be strong enough to the point of being considered excessive. The central and local governments must exert the utmost effort to prevent secondary infections by stretching their response capabilities to the maximum.
I urge you to accelerate the already initiated complete screening of all entrants from Wuhan and to publicize its progress and outcome in a transparent manner. For those who cannot be reached, I ask for voluntary reporting. Monitoring and supervision systems have to be further strengthened for those with symptoms or who have come into contact with confirmed patients. I also urge you to speed up the review of provincial medical institutions’ treatment and reporting methods, the expansion of separate treatment facilities exclusively for suspected cases and isolation wards in each region to prepare for further dissemination of the virus, and the securing of necessary personnel and supplies. As confirmed cases are being reported in numerous countries besides China, inflow routes for the virus could be diversifying. I ask you to craft measures to strengthen quarantine procedures at all air and seaports and in preparation for that possibility.
It’s not just the virus that we have to deal with. It’s necessary to stand firm against undue anxiety and unfounded fear. The Government is able to provide the most accurate information the most promptly. I urge you to disclose all necessary information in the most transparent, swift and detailed manner in order to meet public expectations so that people will not withdraw from their daily lives and unnecessary misunderstandings and speculations will not arise.
In particular, it is impossible to overemphasize the significance of stern responses to fake news. Not even the best quarantine system can operate without trust. At a time when it is necessary to pool national capabilities against the spread of a new infectious disease, producing and distributing fake news, which exacerbates distrust and anxiety, is a grave criminal act that hinders the quarantine and undermines the people’s safety. The ministries and agencies in charge are advised to take stern action with extra caution against fake news that steps beyond freedom of expression. The role of the media is also important. I ask for cooperation to overcome this novel coronavirus at the earliest date possible. I also ask lawmakers to, in the least, refrain from political wrangling over this issue.
Meanwhile, what is worrisome is the possibility of an excessive contraction in economic sentiment. Normal economic activities should not be affected by anxieties. In particular, I ask all ministries to do everything they can to manage economic circumstances with the deputy prime minister and minister of economy and finance playing a central role. Comprehensive monitoring and countermeasures are essential with regard to the effect on our economy, including exports, investment, consumption and instability in domestic and overseas financial markets. Local economies as well as tourism, lodging and other service industries may incur additional hardships. I ask you, along with the local governments, to closely look into the ripple effects by region and industry sector and to establish policies that provide sufficient support as soon as possible to those areas that need administrative or financial assistance.
At the same time, the difficulties for Korean companies doing business in China are also expected to grow until the situation caused by the new coronavirus there subsides. I’d like you to set up communication channels among the related agencies, Korean companies in China and business associations and provide active support to minimize damage.
I also wish to make a request to the people. The weapon that can protect us from the new coronavirus is not fear and aversion but trust and cooperation. We have the world’s best quarantine-related capabilities. We also have accumulated experience from past incidents. Moreover, the Government is doing its best. We will be able to prevail successfully provided that the people and local communities cooperate. If the central and local governments go to any length together to do their work and each and every one of us thoroughly sticks to the guidelines for preventing the spread of disease, we will be able to surmount this while minimizing damage from the new coronavirus. I believe that the people possess the maturity needed, and the Government will double its efforts as well.