We are now facing the most critical juncture since the first outbreak of COVID-19 in our country. In particular, the virus continues to spread amid a significant hike in the Seoul metropolitan area. Furthermore, as the region has become the epicenter of the nationwide spread, we have urgently convened this special meeting with the heads of three local governments within the area.
In the Seoul metropolitan area, Level 4 social distancing has come into effect for two weeks starting today. As the most stringent epidemic prevention measure that can be taken without imposing a lockdown, the intent is to emerge from the current situation at the earliest date possible swiftly and boldly by imposing the highest alert. This is an emergency remedy to bring the epidemic situation under control as early as possible and prevent greater suffering and loss, although it forces us to endure economic damage and inconveniences in our day-to-day lives. If we can end it swiftly and boldly, it will be a shortcut that accelerates our return to daily routines and minimizes economic damage. The Government will work with extraordinary determination with the sense that we have no more room for retreat if we fail to stop it here. We will cooperate with relevant local governments to decisively stem the spread within the Seoul metropolitan area at an early stage.
It is true that – unlike the past when clusters happened mainly in certain facilities or among certain groups – the virus is spreading this time in ways that are much more complicated and difficult to respond to. It is never easy to block the spread in densely populated areas that have a lot of foot traffic, primarily among young adults and the middle-aged who are very socially active, as multiple infections occur simultaneously. In particular, the rapid spread of COVID-19’s highly contagious Delta variant is causing even graver concerns.
At a time like this, it is all the more necessary to go back to the basics. The most effective approach is to make the most of Korea’s strengths when responding to COVID-19, the methods we are versed in. It is about putting three essential measures into meticulous operation – diagnostic testing, epidemiological investigations and treating quarantined patients. Along with the Seoul Metropolitan Government and adjacent local governments, the Central Government will mobilize all available resources to build a more closely knit epidemic control network, for instance, by conducting large-scale diagnostic testing and thorough epidemiological investigations. The medical response system should also be strengthened given the spike in confirmed cases: We should make every effort to secure beds, for instance, by quickly increasing the number of residential treatment centers as there may be a temporary shortage. In particular, since the majority of the confirmed cases at the moment have no or only mild symptoms, securing enough treatment centers as early as possible will be the most urgent task.
The municipal and provincial leaders with us today are driving epidemic prevention and control in the Seoul metropolitan area. The role of local governments is absolutely crucial in the frontline fight against the virus, including diagnostic testing, epidemiological investigations, inspections of vulnerable facilities and the expansion of residential treatment centers.
Cooperation from local governments is also essential to increase the ability to carry out the heightened epidemic prevention and control measures. The Government will provide all the support possible to combat the epidemic while further enhancing cooperation with local governments.
Vaccinations will also be accelerated. Vaccinations among the elderly and other high-risk groups have been proven to contribute greatly to curbing COVID-19 infections and reducing the mortality rate and the numbers of severely and critically ill patients. As such, inoculation is an important shield that prevents the spread of the virus and, at the same time, it makes COVID-19 a less dangerous disease. The Government will do all it can to move up the vaccination timeline by administering the inbound vaccines as efficiently as possible. The doses brought in through the vaccine swap with Israel will be first used to inoculate bus and taxi drivers, delivery workers, educators and childcare providers in Seoul and Gyeonggi-do Province who often come in contact with others, beginning tomorrow. This will help epidemic prevention and control efforts in the Seoul metropolitan area.
The essence of Korea’s response to COVID-19 is mature civic awareness. Over the past one and half years, whenever the COVID-19 situation became serious, we have ridden out the waves of the crisis by uniting through mature civic awareness. The people’s cooperation is more pressing than ever now. I ask the public to strictly comply with epidemic prevention rules such as wearing a mask and to refrain from trips and gatherings as much as possible with a sense of “pausing for a moment.” In a bid to prevent a balloon effect, I urge the public to make sure to spread out their summer vacations as much as possible.
I very much regret having to ask people once more to withstand and endure a little more. Most of all, my heart is heavy and aches very much when I think of the small- and microbusiness owners and the self-employed who began to have hope but now feel at a complete loss again. We will do everything possible to swiftly and boldly bring the strengthened epidemic prevention measures to an end for them. All that can be done will be done to alleviate the hardships from losses tied to business restrictions, albeit slightly, by paying the maximum compensation allowed through the relevant legislation and by using the supplementary budget.
During this wave of infection, I was once again reminded of how difficult it is to achieve success while trying to balance epidemic prevention and the economy. However, since we have been doing well so far, we can succeed if the central and local governments and the people pull together. We will be able to certainly turn the situation around by swiftly and boldly completing the Level 4 social distancing measures and concurrently expanding the vaccination. I urge the people to join in these efforts so that we can quickly surmount this crucial juncture. The central and local governments will jointly make all-out efforts to end the current wave of infection and the Level 4 social distancing as soon as possible and revive the hope that normal daily lives and people’s livelihoods will be restored.