I wish everyone a Happy New Year. The past year was incredibly difficult. All of us have struggled to the extent that we miss and wish for our normal routines. I hope more desperately than ever that the new year finds all of our people healthy and happy.
For the Year of the White Ox, we have arranged this New Year’s gathering in a very unique and unlikely to be repeated manner. The harsher the cold weather gets, the more we long for the warmth of others. Even though we cannot hold one another’s hands, our hearts have grown fonder, and we are more determined to overcome COVID-19.
Even last year’s COVID-19 situation could not bring the Republic of Korea to a halt. With the entire population taking action as the principal agents of epidemic prevention and control, hope has increased that we can make everyday life better and society more compassionate.
Today, we are joined by medical professionals and those who have stayed by the side of neighbors in need. Also invited are leaders from all walks of life, including religious and business communities as well as civic organizations that served as reliable protectors of our society in the past year. I am deeply grateful to all citizens for their dedication and hard work throughout the year. I hope everyone will take pride in the fact that they did as much as they could amid the hardships.
The year 2020 was a tough year for all of us, but at the same time it was a year when we inspired one another. I wholeheartedly appreciate the sacrifice of pandemic response and medical professionals on the frontlines of the battle against COVID-19 as well as the essential workers whose support made it possible for us to maintain everyday lives despite strict social distancing measures.
Like candles, many people have lit up the darkness cast by COVID-19. Workers have had to sweat more in the face of the economic crisis. Businesses have done all they could to retain employees. Volunteers and civic groups have provided support for those in need. Artists, cultural figures and athletes have brought comfort to the people. Religious communities have helped boost the spirit of harmony and hope.
Everyone who has demonstrated the power of mutual benefit while enduring inconveniences has served as a reliable buttress. With mature civic consciousness, they have taken on the role of principal agents for epidemic prevention and control, thereby making it possible to minimize economic damage.
A Republic of Korea which fared well on both epidemic control and economic fronts was the self-portrait we all helped paint in 2020. The pride belongs to the people exclusively. Hardships still persist. We might get exhausted, both mentally and physically. However, the proud achievements from Korea’s response to COVID-19, which our people have reaped, will never fade.
The new year is one for recovery. We are now passing the final critical juncture of the third wave of COVID-19. Though very exhausted, given our people’s capabilities, we are sure to overcome this crisis as well. We are planning to start vaccinations next month. A treatment developed by a domestic company is also under review for approval. With thorough epidemic prevention and control, vaccines and treatments, we will certainly prevail over COVID-19 and restore our invaluable daily lives.
The new year is one for unity. COVID-19 has brought home the fact that we all are connected. Thanks to the people’s common wish to urgently help neighbors suffering the most, the third round of emergency relief payments will start to be distributed from next week. Introduction of the employment support program will significantly strengthen the employment and social safety nets, and we are accelerating our efforts to narrow the divides wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is more important is bringing our hearts together. When we respect the efforts made in the fight against COVID-19, acknowledge and take pride in our achievements collectively and seize them as an opportunity for even greater advancement, we can move toward a more cohesive society.
The new year is one for a leap forward. We rediscovered the Republic of Korea amid the difficulties caused by COVID-19. We were neither in the second tier nor an eternal runner-up. Our people have demonstrated capabilities that other countries envy. These include not only our response to COVID-19 but also the world’s best digital technology, fast economic recovery, excellent cultural potential and mature civic awareness within an advanced democracy. In the process, Korea has been recognized as an exemplary nation.
Now, we will achieve a fast and strong economic recovery through the full-fledged implementation of the Korean New Deal and leap forward to emerge as a pace-setting nation. Moreover, the 2050 carbon neutrality policy will help us join other nations at the forefront of the response to climate change. If conditions allow, every last effort will be made to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, establish permanent peace and advance inter-Korean relations.
Last year, sacrifice and devotion by each and every one of our people helped keep hope alive. We gained confidence that Korea can move forward to become a country where everyone prospers together through solidarity and cooperation. In the year 2021, we will work tirelessly and steadily like an ox on a slow thousand-mile journey and finally restore our invaluable daily lives. Let us move forward vigorously to become a leading nation.