Let me begin the 7th Cabinet Meeting.
An emergency situation requires an emergency prescription. I ask you to work out preemptive and extraordinary measures for both public safety and people’s livelihoods.
To stem the spread of COVID-19, the Government is mobilizing nationwide capabilities and going all-out in its response. Our infectious disease prevention and control measures to control the spread of the virus are stabilizing due to the dedicated efforts of the related authorities and medical professionals in combination with the general public thoroughly practicing hygiene guidelines. The rate of increase in the number of confirmed cases is slowing, and a growing number of patients are being discharged after being completely cured. Those Korean returnees from Wuhan, who had been quarantined in isolation at temporary living quarters for two weeks, were all released in good health over the last weekend. People are gradually breaking free from fear and anxiety and regaining vitality little by little. The Government will never lower its guard and will do everything it can to maintain infectious disease prevention and control until the coronavirus outbreak is brought to an end.
In addition to the ongoing severe situation in China, the deteriorating circumstances in Japan are becoming yet another variable. To stay safe from this cross-border infectious disease, it is crucial that neighboring countries bring their situations under control as soon as possible. Together with endeavors to further step up quarantining upon entry into the country, we have to join forces with neighboring countries in the face of a transnational disaster. I urge you to put forth extra efforts for international cooperation and support in order to promptly surmount the hardships together.
While doing its utmost to control and prevent an epidemic, the Government should deal sternly with what is transpiring with a sense of urgency that we are in an emergency economic situation caused by economic repercussions from the COVID-19 outbreak. Korea is bound to bear the brunt of a slump in the Chinese economy. Presently, Korean businesses linked with China are suffering disruptions in their supply chains and production. Moreover, exports to China, our largest trade partner accounting for a quarter of our total outbound shipments, are dwindling by a large margin.
As tourism, culture, leisure and other service industries are also taking a severe blow, consumption and domestic demand are significantly shrinking, further straining businesses and the self-employed. Some have even voiced concern that the COVID-19 will have a far more extensive and prolonged impact than that from the SARS or MERS outbreak. This is a time when we absolutely need extraordinary measures that will make use of all means at the Government’s disposal.
The first reserve fund to be passed at today’s Cabinet Meeting is only the beginning, and the front-loading of the budget is a basic step that must be taken without question. These measures alone are nowhere near enough. I urge you to stretch your imagination beyond all limits and expectations when it comes to policy in order to meet the challenge of this emergency economic situation.
The current situation is more serious than we think. I urge you to come up with strong support measures to minimize the damage to struggling businesses. I also ask you to review special financial assistance as well as drastic measures to ease the tax burden for SMEs and microbusiness owners. In order to reciprocate a voluntary rent-reduction campaign initiated by some commercial property owners, it will be necessary to promptly devise ways to help ease microbusiness owners’ rent concerns. I ask you to give active consideration to measures aimed at increasing incentives to promote corporate investment and carrying out bolder regulatory innovation.
In particular, contracted domestic consumption needs boosting. In addition to vouchers, partial refunds on purchases or other measures to boost consumption, I ask that you actively consider ways to provide unprecedented support if needed to revitalize traditional markets, small businesses in residential neighborhoods and local economies.
Instead of arguing over whether there is a precedent or not, we need to put all conceivable measures on the table and mobilize all possible means. Timing is vital for policies. As we now find ourselves in an emergency, it is imperative that we never lose an opportunity to prescribe remedies. I ask the National Assembly to also cooperate in overcoming this emergency economic situation.
In the meantime, we also need to make efforts to turn this crisis into an opportunity. By using this crisis as a driving force for innovation, we have to turn it into a chance to build a strong economy that cannot be shaken. As we’ve learned from Japan’s unwarranted export restrictions, a heavy reliance on foreign markets can threaten our economy at any time. I urge you to further spur diversifying import sources, fostering the material, parts and equipment industries, and exploring new markets. In addition, we should also increase opportunities for overseas Korean businesses to return to our country as well as take action to attract foreign investments.
Once again, I call upon the people. Undue fear and anxiety overly burden our economy. The people after all also have the power to revive it. The Republic of Korea has world-class infectious disease prevention and control and medical systems. If our people follow personal hygiene guidelines while putting their faith in the Government’s responses and return to their normal economic activities and daily lives, it will give the economic recovery a huge boost.
That’s all for today.