The number of novel coronavirus patients and deaths in China is soaring, and the World Health Organization has declared a global health emergency. Amidst this situation, the number of confirmed cases in Korea is also increasing. In response, the Government is exerting its utmost effort to prevent the spread of the infectious disease. Epidemic control and prevention authorities as well as countless medical professionals are working their hardest day and night on the frontlines of quarantine services.
Moreover, private-public collaboration has been able to successfully put in place a new test method that will help drastically reduce the time and steps needed for testing and further accelerate responses. I am deeply grateful to all those who are anxiously dedicating themselves to protecting the people’s lives and health. I hope that our people will also show encouragement and support to these heroes.
More than anything else, I extend my profound respect and gratitude to our people for their highly developed civic awareness. In particular, we’ve all been greatly moved by the inclusive spirit of the residents of Jincheon and Asan, who’ve embraced the Koreans returning from Wuhan with a broad mind, and the way members of the local Korean community and the Consulate General in Wuhan have demonstrated mutual caring amid this difficult situation.
Just as one citizen noted, “We’re a social safety net for one another”; we have reaffirmed once again that the power to surmount crises always stems from the people. Trusting in the potential of our people, the Government will gather all available capabilities to deal with the situation going forward.
The situation might only be just beginning. There is no telling yet how far it will spread and when it will end. The Government will tackle the situation with extraordinary determination in full recognition that we are now at a critical juncture. The crisis alert level will be maintained where it is currently: the second-highest level, but the Government will make a preemptive response by carrying out measures that actually correspond to the highest level. Accordingly, a pan-government, all-out response system led by the Prime Minister personally will be up and running. Strong measures will continue to be taken to contain the spread of the virus.
To keep the virus from spreading, we have to muster all of our capabilities in order to prevent even a slight breach from forming in the quarantine network. We’ll have to conduct thorough epidemiological investigations as well as keep track of suspected cases to stem secondary and tertiary infections. In particular, we must actively respond to people’s fears. I urge you to pay extraordinary attention to strengthening quarantine measures at facilities for children such as daycare centers, kindergartens and schools as well as other public facilities.
There are also concerns about cases overseas where people without symptoms have tested positive and the possibility of transmission by asymptomatic individuals. Keeping even this highly unlikely possibility in mind, we will expand the targets of supervision as much as we can. To this end, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should play a pivotal role in pooling the capabilities of academics who specialize in infectious diseases and the medical community, and I ask the central and local governments to establish a robust system of cooperation between them.
China is the Republic of Korea’s largest trading partner and source of people-to-people exchanges. Hardships for China can directly lead to our own hardships. It is necessary to join forces to overcome the current emergency situation and provide unstinting support and cooperation as a neighboring country. When we jointly shoulder our neighbor’s pain and unite without turning a blind eye to it, we can become genuine neighbors and march toward the future together.
Meanwhile, we have no other choice but to further strengthen our immigration controls to protect our people. Several other countries around the world are also enforcing restrictions on entry at different levels or taking measures to strengthen immigration controls to prevent the inflow and spread of the infectious disease.
Restricting the entry of foreign nationals who stayed in or visited Hubei Province and ending visa-free travel to Jejudo Island on a temporary basis, among others, are unavoidable measures to protect the safety of the people. I ask for active cooperation to ensure that Korean nationals who have visited Hubei or come in contact with confirmed patients thoroughly comply with measures to place themselves under quarantine at home.
We will also have to work out ways to compensate for the sacrifices being made to prevent the spread of the infectious disease by the people held in quarantine, the medical professionals working on treatments and others. I also urge you to do all you can to come up with measures to assist such sectors as the self-employed and tourism-related businesses that can suffer direct damage as a result of novel coronavirus and to provide the vulnerable with masks, hand sanitizers and other protections.
The situation caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak is expected to weigh heavily on our economy, but I ask you to deal with the issue by putting the people’s safety before the economy. The hardship facing us now may get even more serious, but we will prevail in the end. We have accumulated experience, the ability to prevent an epidemic at the national level and the mature civic awareness of the people. It is neither desirable nor helpful to solving the problem if some people exploit fears to spread distrust and incite aversion.
Trust and cooperation, not fear and aversion, are the real ways to overcome this. We will weather this crisis calmly and wisely through swift and extraordinary responses on our part, seamless cooperation with local governments and communities and close coordination with the international community. I would like the people to have confidence that if we join hands, we will be fully capable of accomplishing this.