This is going to be the year’s last meeting with senior secretaries to the President at Cheong Wa Dae. My Administration will enter its fifth year next year. At a time when we may become a bit lax, the Government will pull itself together and attend to state affairs with even more extraordinary determination. Ruminating over what we set out to do, we will continue to work to overcome national crises together with the people by renewing our commitment.
The daily COVID-19 caseload has recently fluctuated around 1,000. Our best efforts in the fight against the disease have helped rein in the rapid spread of the virus, but people still have immense concerns over the fact that the spread is not being contained easily. Nonetheless, there is no royal road to epidemic prevention and control. There is no other way but for the Government and citizens to come together and pool our strength. The Government will meticulously implement the enhanced special epidemic prevention measures through the start of next year. We will further strengthen extensive and preemptive diagnostic testing as well as epidemiological investigations and treatments for quarantined patients so that we will be able to curb the spread in the new year. The current situation seems like a fierce tug-of-war between COVID-19’s proliferation and our epidemic prevention capabilities. I hope that everyone will once again find strength, cognizant of this being the final critical juncture for prevailing over COVID-19.
Throughout the year, all of our people have suffered a lot of pain while living with COVID-19. However, we have responded relatively well even as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has surpassed 80 million with over 1.7 million fatalities. Thanks to such a response, our economy has been able to experience far less impact than those of other countries.
The success of Korea’s response to COVID-19 is often attributed to a seamless process represented by “3Ts” – testing, tracing and treating. The practice of 3Ts has already become a global standard. However, what has garnered the world’s praise is our people’s strong sense of community and civic consciousness. Even now, many parts of the world are repeatedly imposing severe lockdowns but COVID-19 only continues to spread out of control.
Our people’s enhanced cooperation and participation – which cannot be measured – is the real reason behind the success of Korea’s response to COVID-19. While our country is still seeing an average of around 1,000 confirmed cases per day, the United States has an average of 230,000, the United Kingdom 34,000, Germany 25,000 and Japan 2,800.
This achievement was possible because our people united as one. As we close this year, I extend my utmost respect and gratitude to those who have done their best for epidemic prevention and control despite numerous difficulties throughout the year. I hope the people take tremendous pride in themselves as well.
Some are voicing concerns that our country has failed to secure a sufficient amount of vaccines or that vaccination will be delayed. Neither is true. The Government has been operating a pan-government support system for many months and making all possible preparations to secure vaccines after listening to the opinions of experts. We have also, on several occasions, made public our vaccination strategies and goals. Our initial plans are proceeding as scheduled. We have already secured enough doses and are working to obtain additional supplies to prepare for any unforeseen situation.
We are also making efforts to speed up the importation of vaccines while thoroughly preparing for inoculations. The Government expects that inoculations can begin in February next year – starting with those prioritized, including medical professionals as well as nursing facility staff and residents. The paramount, basic principle for the Government when responding to COVID-19 is disclosing information in a transparent manner. The same is true for vaccines. The Government has made its plans public whenever necessary. The exceptions had to do with some confidential contract clauses during negotiations to procure vaccines. Nevertheless, the people are now seeing those plans materialize one by one.
We have not neglected support for the development of Korea-made vaccines either. This is also necessary because establishing “vaccine sovereignty” is crucial in order to prepare for a prolonged COVID-19 pandemic. To completely end the pandemic and fully return to normal, all three elements – epidemic prevention and control, vaccines and treatments – must be in place. The development of domestic treatments is also being accelerated. The Government has forecast that Korea will not fall behind in the development of treatments though we see a gap when compared to some leading countries in terms of vaccine development. To date, the development of treatments is proceeding as planned. If we succeed in developing and commercializing treatments quickly, another path to surmounting COVID-19 will open up. In that case, the Republic of Korea could move beyond being a pace-setter in epidemic prevention and become an exemplary nation that has achieved all three elements – infectious disease control, vaccines and treatments – thereby being able to contribute more to the world.
The year 2020 – one marked by upheavals that no one expected – will be over in a few days. Under these circumstances when the entire world is experiencing a pandemic, we are doing relatively well with respect to epidemic prevention and control as well as the economy. However, the people’s suffering is immeasurable. Everyone is experiencing an unprecedented ordeal. Some are suffering due to COVID-19 infections or the loss of lives, while others are in danger of losing their livelihoods due to economic shock. Also, people are undergoing hardships from the frozen job market, unemployment and unpaid leave. The Government will never overlook this fact but squarely face it. We will do all we can to overcome difficulties together. I would like to express my heartfelt sympathy and encouragement to the people who have resolutely endured hard times and are pulling together to prevail over the crisis.
This year has been unique; we have seen how COVID-19 could completely change the lives of humanity. We will use this year’s extraordinary experiences and lessons as an opportunity for greater advancement. As the government responsible for the lives of the people, we will strive to restore the economy and the people’s daily lives quickly. Taking it a step further, as a country resilient to crises, we will open up a path for Korea’s new leap forward. I ask the people to join us on this path.