Two outside experts – President Kang Sam-kwon of the Korea Venture Business Association and Chairman Ji Seong-bae of the Korean Venture Capital Association – are participating in today’s meeting to discuss items on the agenda. Please welcome them with a round of applause. Thank you for joining us.
How fast we can return to a pre-COVID-19 state depends entirely on epidemic prevention and control as well as vaccinations. Many countries around the world are accelerating their vaccination efforts, but the trend of increasing COVID-19 infections is unusual. They have risen for five weeks in a row worldwide, and the number of confirmed cases has already surpassed 130 million. In particular, countries in Europe are reimposing lockdowns, including travel restrictions, as the spread of new COVID-19 variants is likely to escalate into yet another wave.
The number of daily confirmed cases in Korea has also hovered around the 500 range for an extended period, causing a lot of anxiety. That number is relatively very small compared to other countries, but our situation necessitates raising vigilance significantly, considering where we kept infection rates before. We all have to stay even more alert in this season when outdoor activities, personal contact and travel increase.
The Government will implement its epidemic prevention and control measures more thoroughly. At the same time, we cannot but strictly apply a zero tolerance principle to any act impeding disease fighting efforts and any violation of epidemic prevention guidelines. I understand that the people, for their part, might find themselves weary and exhausted, but I hope everyone will summon a little more strength to comply with epidemic prevention guidelines. Of note, I ask all eligible voters to go to the polls, but at the same time, fully follow the anti-epidemic measures of the disease-control authorities and the National Election Commission.
One more concern for countries around the world is growing instability in the supply of vaccines as production is not picking up speed and some of the manufacturing countries are tightening export restrictions. Notwithstanding, the Government will do all it can to introduce vaccines without any disruption in order to inoculate 12 million people during the first half of this year and achieve the goal of herd immunity in November or even earlier.
We will make the most efficient use of the doses already secured to administer them to as many people as possible faster than planned. Since the first dose by itself is found to have had a significant preventive effect, the Government has decided to maximize the number of people who receive the first shot and accelerate the process. In particular, the inoculation date is being brought forward for the elderly; caretakers; staff at medical institutions and pharmacies; patients with chronic diseases; high school seniors; and teachers, including those at kindergartens and daycare centers as well as those who are in charge of first and second graders at elementary schools.
Meanwhile, we will make all-out efforts by mustering government-wide capabilities to ensure that the vaccine supply is not disrupted under any circumstances. In preparation for every eventuality, we will not only introduce as early as possible the doses already arranged but also secure additional supplies. I ask the people to trust the safety of the vaccines and actively participate in the inoculation.
The Government has done its best to catch two rabbits – epidemic prevention and control and economic management – amid a national crisis. Various indicators show that our economy has taken a clear path toward recovery. Even though the improvements in indicators do not immediately translate into betterment in people’s lives, it is very fortunate that the trends of economic rebound are being created everywhere.
In February, industrial production showed the biggest gain in eight months, recovering its pre-COVID-19 level, and output in the struggling service industry also recorded an increase. Moreover, exports hit an all-time high for March, marking five months of consecutive growth. By item, exports of 14 of the 15 flagship products increased, shaking off the hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to regaining the status of the world’s top shipbuilding powerhouse in a resounding way, innovative business ventures and new industries are providing a solid foundation for an economic rebound, demonstrating the dynamism and future competitiveness of our economy. This is also a great achievement.
Economic sentiment has also surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels, a good sign that the rebound will continue. The warmth of recovery is circulating through industries as the Business Survey Index is also demonstrating upward trends across the board: manufacturing and non-manufacturing sectors, large companies and SMEs as well as exporters and those relying on the domestic market. The rapid economic recovery is the result of the people and businesses’ joint effort to overcome the crisis along with the Government’s extraordinary policy responses. I am deeply grateful to our people and businesses for their hard work, and the Government will further enhance its responsibility and role to vigorously maintain the momentum of the economic rebound.
Most of all, every effort will be made to ensure that the people sense in their everyday lives the steady economic recovery that is reflected by the indicators. We will revive the economy for the benefit of low-income households while making job recovery in particular the top priority. The capacity of our policies will be concentrated on an inclusive recovery that empowers those in need. Communication and cooperation with businesses will be strengthened further. I ask every ministry and agency to do all they can to promote economic recovery by supporting business activities and accelerating regulatory innovation, in addition to the efforts to actively resolve difficulties that may arise at industrial sites.