A few days ago, the Government dispatched two military aircraft to Iraq and brought back home 293 Korean construction workers. It was a step taken to protect the lives and safety of our people as the spread of COVID-19 is very serious in Iraq. Among them, 76 workers tested positive, resulting in a temporary spike in the daily count of confirmed COVID-19 cases. However, I can say that there is no risk of local transmission through the returnees because all of them are safely under quarantine.
In the meantime, the Government succeeded over the weekend in safely freeing five Korean sailors, who had been kidnapped in waters off Benin in West Africa about a month ago. The Government will do what it can to the best of its ability to protect the lives and safety of Koreans around the world wherever they are.
The Government has exerted the utmost effort to protect Koreans abroad who have been jeopardized by COVID-19. It has sent in charter flights as well as military aircraft and even a presidential plane to safely evacuate 2,000 Koreans residing in seven countries in serious situations. Moreover, the Government has helped 43,000 Koreans return home safely from 115 countries by adding non-regular flights or helping Koreans board planes chartered by other countries.
A well-organized management system, hardly found in other countries, is up and running on all fronts for those returning from dangerous areas abroad. This fact is the special strength that we have demonstrated during this process, and our system includes overseeing facilities, quarantines, diagnoses and treatments. In this manner, local transmission of COVID-19 is being effectively contained.
I can confidently say that Korea is emerging as a global model with its proactive, open, and transparent response to COVID-19 and also leading the world in the protection of citizens abroad. Going forward, we will continue to elevate the Government’s role further still with an attitude that the Government will take responsibility for its people’s safety.
I urge you to do your best – through contact-free medical services and other means – for the safety of the 12,000 Korean workers still at overseas construction sites.
In the midst of serious global economic downturns, our economy has also posted negative growth for the past two consecutive quarters. Compared to OECD member countries undergoing huge declines, however, we can still say that our situation is the result of incredibly effective countermeasures. Nevertheless, having fared relatively well in comparison to competing countries offers no comfort to our people’s lives. Now is the time to go a step further and do everything possible to help our economy emerge from the dark tunnel of negative growth and rebound.
If the Government and private sector’s efforts are combined, we expect that the economy will rebound beginning in the 3rd quarter. Various economic indicators have also been showing signs of gradual recovery from June and July after bottoming out in the 2nd quarter. Therefore, it is safe to say that now is the right time to make a full-fledged economic rebound.
Domestic demand already started picking up in the 2nd quarter, so we expect it to improve further in the 3rd. Thanks to the emergency relief payments and the Republic of Korea All-together Sale campaign, sales have been rising not only for contact-free trade but also in all other areas, including traditional markets, neighborhood shops and department stores.
Passenger demand for domestic flights is recovering to normal levels, and it is getting difficult to reserve accommodations at major tourist destinations. As such, domestic tourism has also slowly begun to regain vitality. Returning to normal routines will also occur more vigorously; fan attendance at professional sports games is already being phased in. We hope that the designation of August 17 as a substitute holiday will contribute to stimulating domestic demand while also serving as an opportunity to give the weary public some rest.
The decline in exports, which account for the largest part of our economy, is the biggest constraint on economic recovery. However, it is fortunate that the decline grew smaller in July. Exports of items in which we have a competitive edge – system semiconductors, OLEDs and mobile phone components – have shifted to upswings, and it is also a favorable trend that exports of eco-friendly future cars have increased significantly compared to last year.
The world economy ground to an unprecedented halt, and its slow recovery is making it hard to resolve difficulties within a short span of time. However, the Government will strengthen support across the board to facilitate the recovery of exports while striving to address the hardships facing exporters.
We will make sure that the Korean New Deal serves as a pillar to support our economy’s rebound. Along with the efforts to push the great transition to a pace-setting economy, low-carbon economy and inclusive nation, the Government will aggressively create jobs and expand investment to help surmount the crisis and restore economic growth.
Seeing the 3rd quarter as an opportunity to successfully engineer an economic rebound that we cannot miss, the Government will mobilize all policy measures available with extraordinary determination. I hope that the people, who are going through a difficult time, will also join forces to make sure that the economy rebounds while putting their faith in the Government. We can be as successful with the economy as we were with infectious disease prevention and control.
Torrential monsoon rains are threatening the people’s safety, and property damage is growing. Some people in hard-hit areas have been injured and even killed. I send my deepest sympathy to those who sadly lost their lives and to their bereaved families.
We are expecting heavy rain to continue nationwide for a while. I ask the Government to maintain readiness and carry out thorough safety checks. The ground has already weakened considerably, and there are concerns of additional damage if there is another downpour. I ask related ministries and agencies along with local governments to conduct preliminary inspections on areas where landslides, flooding and the collapse of steep embankments are a concern and come up with meticulous countermeasures.
From the important lesson learned with the loss of lives in the underpass in Busan, in particular, I ask you to make all-out efforts together with local governments to ensure that no more fatalities occur. To prepare for the worst, I urge you to do everything needed now to evacuate residents, rescue people and conduct emergency repairs.