Let me begin the 9th Cabinet Meeting.
Today’s Cabinet Meeting has been convened as part of an expanded meeting of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters. The Prime Minister – currently stationed in Daegu – and officials at the Government Complex in Sejong as well as mayors and provincial governors are joining us via videoconferencing. Mayors and governors may be excused from the meeting should they have any emergencies to address.
We are in a critical phase with the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continuing to rise. We are facing a totally different situation following the outbreak of COVID-19 infections among members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. The cluster of infections involving Shincheonji members and the virus’s unprecedentedly high contagion rate are posing a serious threat to our infectious disease prevention and control efforts. The crises in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do Province have reached a peak, and the entire nation has entered a state of war against this infectious disease.
We are doing our utmost to establish more robust infectious disease prevention and control lines. As acknowledged by countries around the world, Korea is setting an example by conducting tests on all suspected cases as they arise and strengthening epidemiological investigations to identify confirmed cases and treat them in a speedy manner. I believe that testing a large number of people at the fastest rate in the world and disclosing the results transparently and promptly are the best measures we can take at this stage to prevent the spread of local infections.
As the number of confirmed cases is rising rapidly, the Government is significantly increasing the number of medical personnel to make up for deficiencies and also securing hospital beds at an accelerated rate. At the same time, with the tide of infections changing, the Government is taking steps to utilize limited medical resources efficiently by primarily treating patients with severe symptoms in hospitals while housing those infected who have only light symptoms in residential treatment centers staffed with medical professionals for their protection. The central and local governments are reaching out a helping hand to Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do in solidarity and support as they have been hit the hardest by the virus, and these officials are going all out to stem the spread of infections to local communities. I am deeply grateful to mayors, provincial governors and local infectious disease prevention and control authorities for their hard work. I call on you to step up cooperation in order to secure more residential treatment centers and treat more of the patients who show severe symptoms.
I extend a sincere apology to the people for the inconveniences caused by the insufficient and delayed supply of face masks. An explosion in the number of confirmed cases and increasing concern about local infections have made it difficult for supply to keep up with soaring demand, and importing masks is not feasible either. Despite having genuine challenges, it is true that it’s taking rather a long time to escape from this frustrating situation. I urge relevant ministries and agencies, with the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety playing a central role, to closely cooperate and find a solution as soon as possible.
I have three key requests. First, if the production of masks cannot be increased quickly, it is difficult to fundamentally address the challenges. I ask you to provide all possible support, including the securing of additional raw materials, to help face mask manufacturers increase output. In addition, in preparation for a decrease in the demand later on, the Government should come up with a plan to purchase the remaining supplies over a certain period and stockpile them as strategic goods. In doing so, I ask you to encourage manufacturers to expand production free of that concern.
Second, since the Government has begun to secure and distribute face masks to the public, I hope that you will seek ways to provide them in the most reasonable and equitable manner until there is an abundance of supply. I urge you to address without fail the inequitable situation where some people purchase a large amount of masks while others wait in multiple long lines to no avail or must resort to paying exorbitant prices. Facing a lack of supply, we should be able to endure this shortage in an equitable manner.
Third, if it is not possible to provide enough supply to meet demand, it’s necessary to inform the people of this reality and, at the same time, work to secure their understanding and cooperation – for instance, by explaining how to use masks efficiently. In order to respond to this infectious disease, the entire population is taking action as principal agents in the infectious disease prevention and control efforts. At the moment, the only way to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak is for all of us to join forces. Our infectious disease prevention and control system is unrivaled, our medical professionals are sweating on the frontlines to stem the spread of infections, and citizens’ voluntary service and support continue ceaselessly. We can surmount this without fail. Now is the time to concentrate on tackling the outbreak at the national level. I earnestly ask everyone to refrain from escalating anxiety and division among the people.
Meanwhile, the economic condition is grave. Economic sentiment is freezing up, significantly contracting investment, consumer spending and industrial activities. There are even concerns that this could deal the biggest blow to the world economy since the global financial crisis. It is indeed an emergency economic situation, so we must make all-out efforts to ease its impact. The starting point should be an urgent and bold fiscal injection by the Government. Therefore, the Government will submit a supplementary budget bill to the National Assembly after an extraordinary Cabinet Meeting tomorrow, following the announcement of comprehensive plans last week. We plan to inject more than 30 trillion won of financial resources directly and indirectly for a support package to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak, including the supplementary budget. All available means have been mobilized to relieve hardships on the vulnerable, including microbusiness owners and low-income workers, and to boost contracting domestic consumption. Budget items have been allocated to strengthen responses to infectious diseases by establishing virus research institutions and hospitals specialized in treating infectious diseases as well as expanding screening stations and negative-pressure wards. Initially, reserve funds and the existing budget will be entirely used up, and the supplementary budget will make up for any insufficient fiscal resources.
Success or failure now depends on the speed. Since both the ruling and opposition parties understand the necessity for swiftly drawing up a supplementary budget, I expect them to have discussions as soon as possible and pass it. I ask them to discuss it for the sake of the people’s safety and economic vitality in the interest of a greater cause by moving beyond political interests. I would like the central and local governments to do everything they can to prepare to disburse the budget as soon as the supplementary budget bill is passed so that the policy effects can be felt on the ground immediately.
I’d like to make special requests to every ministry and agency. The emergency response posture for infectious disease prevention and control and economy needs to be further reinforced. On top of the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters taking on the control tower role, I ask all government organizations to transition into emergency situation rooms that operate around the clock until we emerge from this crisis. Most of all, I’d like all the ministers of government ministries and agencies to personally stay on the ground at the center of these infectious disease prevention and control efforts and ordinary peoples’ livelihoods rather than sitting at their desks.
Now, I look forward to mayors and governors giving their much-needed opinions. Thank you.