The entire world is having a difficult and hard time due to natural disasters and the spread of COVID-19 variants. The highly contagious Delta variant that is spreading at a terrifying rate is putting countries across the globe on high alert in the fight against the virus. Amid this situation, heat waves, torrential rains, landslides and massive wildfires caused by abnormal weather conditions are continuously wreaking havoc on many parts of the world. I extend my condolences and sympathy to all those around the world who have been plagued and victimized by disasters and calamities.
Korea is no exception. We are facing our most critical point in the COVID-19 situation. As heat waves strike with a vengeance, it is expected that this summer will be tougher than any we’ve experienced before. It is time for both the Government and the people to be more than ever before and pull together. The Government will do everything possible to protect those susceptible to disasters while responding to COVID-19 and thoroughly bracing for more heat waves.
The most urgent task is to swiftly and boldly complete the stringent epidemic prevention and control measures aimed at containing the spread of COVID-19. With Level 4 social distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area continuing to be in effect this week, we are keeping a tighter rein on anti-epidemic measures, such as raising social distancing levels across the country and restricting private gatherings. Full-fledged efforts are being made to turn the COVID-19 situation around as soon as possible by doubling frontline response capabilities: significantly expanding diagnostic testing, conducting thorough epidemiological investigations, securing more residential treatment centers and hospital beds and rigorously checking vulnerable facilities and vacation sites. There can be no exceptions or privileges when it comes to epidemic prevention and control measures. Holding those who violate the relevant rules strictly and sternly accountable is unavoidable for no other reason than to honor the vast majority of decent citizens who are complying with anti-epidemic measures despite difficulties.
I am deeply grateful to our people who are actively cooperating with the Government’s enhanced disease fighting measures by holding off on trips and gatherings as they endure inconveniences and sacrifices. The sacrifices and dedication of medical professionals and epidemic frontline workers have also moved us to tears. They are struggling on the frontlines to protect people’s lives and safety despite the recent heat waves exacerbating their hardships on top of the fatigue that has built up over the course of fighting COVID-19 for more than a year and a half. They have my boundless respect and gratitude. We urgently need to encourage each other and unite as one. We have come together and prevailed in the face of countless crises. The public’s cooperation and the devotion of medical professionals and epidemic frontline workers will certainly bear fruit. The Government, together with the people, will do all it can to ensure that we overcome this critical juncture successfully and restore our daily routines as early as possible.
The Government will further accelerate vaccinations while thoroughly implementing epidemic prevention and control measures. High school seniors preparing for college admissions and their teachers will start to receive their first vaccine shots today, and reservations for those in their 50s will be completed within this week. In addition to finding ways to use the available vaccines effectively, an inoculation plan for people in their 40s and under will be devised as soon as possible, so people can predict when they will get vaccinated.
What’s saddest and most regrettable is that this new wave of COVID-19 infections and the resultant tougher epidemic prevention and control measures are bringing even more damage to microbusiness owners and the self-employed. The Government will devise support plans that are more vigorous and meticulous. The Government is clearly determined to expand support to these groups by improving the supplementary budget proposal during the deliberations at the National Assembly. The scope of support for losses will be broader and more extensive, and preparations will be made so the planned measures can be executed promptly as soon as the supplementary budget passes the Assembly.
Pursuant to the Act on Compensation for Commercial Losses, the amount of support will be expanded so that the compensation offered sufficiently reflects the losses tied to the strengthened epidemic prevention measures. Preparations will be made for quick implementation. I ask for cooperation from the National Assembly as well. As everyone agrees on expanding assistance for those in need, I ask the Assembly to focus support toward the damage done to microbusiness owners and the self-employed and discuss that issue first. I also ask for its cooperation so that the supplementary budget can be disbursed in a timely manner by swiftly passing the proposal.
The intensity of these heat waves has been unusual. The Government revised the Framework Act on the Management of Disasters and Safety to add heat waves to the list of disasters covered. We have also made pan-government efforts to reduce any related damage. This year, comprehensive measures have also been devised in advance to prepare for heat waves. The Government should operate an emergency response system jointly with related agencies and concentrate on increasing support for the vulnerable in particular.
We have to implement protective measures for seniors who tend to suffer during heat waves and strengthen on-site assistance for the homeless and residents living in substandard, low-rent housing. I urge you to bolster protective measures and on-site supervision for those who work outdoors like construction workers who are at high risk of heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses. Most of all, ensuring enough rest during the height of heat waves will be of paramount importance.
Efforts to reinforce damage prevention and monitoring activities in farming and fishing communities and to let people know about heat wave conditions and proper instructions in a timely and accurate manner are also very important. Most of all, I ask you to do your utmost to find a proper balance that ensures heat wave-related efforts are not neglected due to epidemic prevention measures. Moreover, I urge you to make all-out efforts to maintain the electric power reserve ratio during heat waves.