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Surge in COVID-19 cases in South Korea continue, church-linked cases untraceable & remain at large

Church confronts president, demands investigation on union group

The Sarang Jeil Church, which recently emerged as a hotbed of mass coronavirus infections, hit back at President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday, criticizing him for making groundless accusations that the religious group obstructed the government’s antivirus fight.

The church and participants of an anti-government rally led by the church on Aug. 15 said in a statement that they actively cooperated with health authorities to contain the novel coronavirus by voluntarily shutting down the facility and providing the list of members and visitors to the church.

On Monday, the president said that the government won‘t tolerate any “malicious and systemic” acts of obstructing the antivirus fight, including the spreading of “fake news.” He called such acts an “anti-social crime that harms the community.”

Demanding the president specify what “malicious and systemic” acts he was referring to, the church said it would be “a threat toward citizens who stand against his policy” if his remarks were groundless.

They also raised an issue with the president’s perception for stating that “no religious freedom, no freedom of assembly or freedom of speech can be claimed, incurring a great deal of damage to the people.”

The group said the Constitution clearly states that fundamental freedom and rights can’t be infringed upon, even if some of them can be limited by law if necessary.

“(Holding) worship services is the fundamental (right) for religious freedom. We are not convinced why only Christian worship should be banned,” it said.

The church also called on the Moon administration to raid the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which held a rally on the same day the church carried out its own.

On Tuesday, Democratic Party of Korea Floor Leader Kim Tae-nyeon urged the KCTU to get tested, saying, “There are no conservatives or progressives in quarantine.”

Some 1,900 members of the KCTU gathered near Bosingak Pavilion in Jongno-gu for a national workers’ meeting on Aug. 15, defying the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s administrative order that forbade large-scale rallies. To avoid violation of the order, the event took the format of a press conference, not a protest.

A court allowed some groups that challenged the city’s administrative order banning the gatherings to carry out rallies as planned, citing the city government’s excessive restriction on the right to freedom of assembly with the cross-the-board ban.

According to the KCTU, 60 percent of some 1,900 people who attended its rally have undergone testing and reported test results to the union. Of them, a unionized worker at Kia Motors, the country’s second-biggest automaker, who tested positive on Aug. 22, was the only person who was confirmed to have been infected with the virus.

The union said it issued a guideline to all event participants to get tested on Aug. 20 prior to the government’s recommendation for testing.

“The KCTU implemented preemptive and active measures before the government’s recommendations and executive orders to dispel public anxiety and concern as the spread of COVID-19 is accelerating in the aftermath of rallies led by extreme conservatives at Gwanghwamun Square,” the group said.

It pledged active cooperation with the government’s quarantine measures, although it suggested that there’s a possibility that the Kia Motors unionist may have contracted the virus through another source, as a case that was already detected at the car factory where he works before the group’s rally took place.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)

S. Korea faces hard choices on near-lockdown as coronavirus resurges

South Korea now stands at a coronavirus crossroads. It must quickly decide whether reintroducing intense physical distancing is necessary, as infection numbers rise again to initial levels seen nearly half a year ago.

With public health authorities anticipating a worse trajectory this time, talks of mitigation actions akin to a lockdown are being floated.

The anti-virus scheme of an unprecedented intensity will come at heavy economic costs, according to some forecasts.

The Bank of Korea’s Aug. 18 report said “a job crisis of a significant magnitude” may be on the horizon if the country were to withstand a lockdown. The report said about 35 percent of all jobs are “nonessential, low-skilled positions” or in a sector that cannot telecommute.

For most, the economic wounds from March and April when the country went into “intensive” physical distancing are still fresh.

A 30-year-old cafe owner in Siheung, Gyeonggi Province, said she was already experiencing a decline in customers since the infection clusters at cafes.

“Food businesses are struggling as it is,” she said.

A 28-year-old who works in a film distribution company said he saw little to no projects during the months the distancing orders were in place.

“I don’t think the smaller companies will be able to survive another phase of social distancing,” he said.

President Moon Jae-in said on Monday that “failing to stem the spread at this stage would mean having to step up the restrictions.”

“This will translate to life coming to a stop and a devastating toll for the economy,” he said, urging people to heed the safety protocols.

Several medical societies, including the Korean Society of Infectious Diseases, Korean Society of Epidemiology and Korean Society for Critical Care Medicine, called for more public health interventions in a joint statement Sunday, saying that physical distancing of a stringent degree appeared “inevitable” to avoid a health care system collapse.

Only 35 percent of all coronavirus beds in the capital were available as of Sunday, data showed. A Seoul woman in her 70s died at her home Thursday waiting to be admitted, marking the first such death since the earlier peak. At least five people had died without ever receiving care in Daegu, the former epicenter of the country’s epidemic, due to bed shortages there.

Health pundits say the resurgence is projected to be even tougher to contain.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Kim Woo-joo of Korea University Hospital in Guro, southern Seoul, said that unlike in Daegu, where the vast majority of the cases were found among followers of the Shincheonji church, the recent spike has been characterized by “multifocal outbreaks” across the country.

“Outbreaks of varying sizes are occurring all over now, rendering them harder to trace,” he said. For over one-fifth of cases confirmed last week, the point of infection was unknown.

Despite counting 11 straight days of triple-digit daily numbers, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is only the beginning of a further jump. Leading the state health agency, Jung Eun-kyeong said in a briefing there may be a “substantial proportion of undetected cases in the capital.”

Sociologist Chang Duk-jin, who sits on the government’s advisory committee for coronavirus policies, said the country faces “an unfortunate trade-off between health and the economy.”

He said based on indicators such as the daily average of between 100 and 200 cases and a reproduction rate of around 2.8, the situation warrants a stricter response. But that needs to be accompanied by measures to cushion the blow for society’s more vulnerable.

“Workers with part-time or temporary contracts who are more prone to be hit by job losses, as well as high-risk establishments that are being ordered to restrict operations should be a priority in getting government cash grants,” he said.

Economics professor Ahn Dong-hyun of Seoul National University suggested that a better way of spending the relief funds may be to pay people to stay home while the country is under lockdown, instead of encouraging them to dine out and travel -- activities which go against the coronavirus guidance -- as did the earlier cash payouts to households.

“If we want to keep people at home and out of the workforce, we should be giving them financial incentives that can create enough of a safety net,” he said. “The economy cannot function in any meaningful way unless the coronavirus is under control.”

Preventive medicine specialist Dr. Ki Mo-ran said imposing forms of lockdown should be “the last resort,” and that they should be saved for a potentially bigger wave later in fall and winter.

“The best way out is for people to socially distance and wear face masks voluntarily without having to shut down parts of the country,” she said.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)

Schools in greater Seoul area ordered to shift online until September 11 amid virus resurgence

South Korean pupils in Seoul and its surrounding areas will return to full remote learning, starting Wednesday, as the country has lately experienced a resurgence of the novel coronavirus and concerns are growing over school safety.

The Ministry of Education announced Tuesday that all school kids, including those in kindergartens, in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province will stay at home and take online classes until Sept. 11, as a preemptive measure to slow the spread of the highly infectious virus.

The emergency policy, announced in a joint briefing by the ministry and the education offices of Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, does not apply to high school seniors, who are scheduled to take the national university entrance exam in early December.

Small-size schools of less than 60 students and special education schools are given autonomy in whether to follow the ministry's instruction.

The sharp policy reversal is a response to what health authorities described as the biggest crisis yet since the pandemic began early this year.

The country, once seen as having successfully tamed the virus, has reported infection cases in the triple digits since mid-August, a rate that has alarmed the ministry, which believed in-person learning at school was possible even during the pandemic if thorough anti-virus measures were enforced.

Amid a spike in new infections, a record number of 2,100 schools halted in-person classes Tuesday, breaking the previous record of 1,845 from Monday. Some schools shut down as a preemptive measure.

Of the total, 40 percent were located in the greater Seoul area, with 157 in Seoul, 524 in Gyeonggi Province and 167 in Incheon. Over the past two weeks, 166 students and 46 teachers and faculty members have tested positive for the virus in the area.

During the briefing, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae stressed the need to minimize disruption to the academic schedule due to the spread of the virus, particularly in the run-up to the annual College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) slated for Dec. 3.

Approximately 480,000 students are expected to take the state-run test, which was postponed once by two weeks earlier this year.

"The most urgent thing right now is to quickly bring the spread under control so as to administer CSAT as scheduled," Yoo said, citing the importance of the test for high school seniors.

But she did not give a direct answer when asked if the ministry has a contingency plan in the event that the pandemic further deteriorates and near lockdown measures are put in place.

The country carefully instituted a phased reopening of schools, starting May 20, amid a slowdown in new cases. Since then, 307 students and 74 faculty members and teachers have tested positive for the virus. The numbers rose by 22 and four, respectively, from a day ago.

The government on Saturday expanded the Level Two guidelines of the three-tier system around the country, as COVID-19 cases were confirmed in all of the country's 17 major cities and provinces, a grim sign that the country might have entered a national epidemic. Previously, it had been imposed in the greater Seoul area.

When Level Three is enforced, all schools nationwide are required to switch to remote learning.

The ministry said it will decide whether to further extend the measure after closely monitoring the spread of the virus until Sept. 11.

The policy for the rest of the region remains the same, with attendance capped at one-third in elementary and middle schools and two-thirds in high schools, and with schools offering a mix of in-person and remote instruction. (Yonhap)

Moon calls for cooperation in anti-virus fight to avoid de facto lockdown

President Moon Jae-in on Monday called for cooperation in the government’s anti-coronavirus efforts to avoid going into a de-facto lockdown as South Korea faces a second wave of COVID-19 infections. The country reported 266 new COVID-19 cases in 24 hours ending midnight Sunday.

“We are facing the greatest crisis since COVID-19 outbreak began,” Moon said at a weekly meeting with his chief secretaries Monday. “We are in much more serious emergency situation than during the early outbreak linked to Shincheonji (Church of Jesus).”

It would be inevitable to raise the level of social distancing campaign to the highest level unless the virus is contained at this stage, which Moon said would amount to everyday lives coming to a halt, jobs lost and economy seriously damaged.

Moon also warned against impeding health authorities’ epidemiological efforts and spreading misinformation, saying “any freedom of religion, public assembly and expression” cannot be justified when they incur colossal damage to fellow citizens.

At the center of resurgence of the virus in Korea is the Sarang Jeil Church, led by a far-right pastor Jun Kwang-hoon, and a massive anti-government rally held Aug. 15 in central Seoul. Some of those linked to the church and the rally are refusing the government’s calls for COVID-19 testing in belief that they are being targeted for political reasons.

Korea announced 266 new COVID-19 cases Monday, falling below 300 for the first time in four days. Of the new cases, 258 were locally transmitted and eight originated overseas, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monday’s tally marks a drop from the 397 new cases announced the previous day, though the authorities warned against attaching any significant meaning to the fall in infections given less COVID-19 testing conducted over the weekend.

“The pattern of the recent outbreak is different from outbreaks from single sources such as clubs in Itaewon or Coupang (logistics center) and unidentified new sources of infections continue to emerge simultaneously,” KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said at a briefing Monday, adding that adhering to social distancing rules this week and next week will shape the outlook of the coronavirus situation in Korea.

In the three-tier system, the Level Two social distancing rules are in place nationwide starting Sunday, under which 12 types of high-risk businesses should be shut down, gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors are banned, among other measures.

Starting Monday, mask-wearing in public was also made mandatory in Seoul, Sejong and Jeju Island, with the rule in place in 13 out of 17 cities and provinces across the county. As the grace period ends and the revision of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act comes into force on Oct. 13, those breaking the rule will face a fine of up to 100,000 won.

According to a Realmeter survey on 500 people conducted on Aug. 21, 55.9 percent of the respondents approved of raising the social distancing level to the highest level to stem the spread of the coronavirus at an early stage.

The number of cases traced to the Seoul-based church was 875, up 34 from a day earlier, according to the KCDC. Some 115 cases of second transmission linked to the church were confirmed from 21 establishments including call centers, offices, hospitals and schools.

Among 2,162 church members who were tested for the coronavirus, 21.7 percent of them tested positive, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

In connection with the rally held on Aug. 15 in central Seoul, a total of 176 cases were reported, up 40 from the previous day. Seven of the cases were among 9,500 police officers who had been dispatched to the rally.

The authorities urged anyone who has attended all rallies held on Aug. 15 in central Seoul -- not only the anti-government rally at Gwanghwamun Square -- to be tested for the coronavirus at local health clinics regardless of having symptoms.

One case was reported from another event held near Bosingak Bell in central Seoul on Aug. 15, attended by some 1,000 members of the progressive Korean Confederation of Trade Unions.

Of the new locally transmitted cases, the overwhelming majority were registered in the Greater Seoul area -- 97 in Seoul and 84 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital. Incheon reported 20 new cases.

Outside the Seoul metropolitan area, cases were reported in all major cities and provinces except in Daegu and Jeju Island -- 10 cases each in Daejeon and North Chungcheong Province, seven each in South Jeolla Province and in South Chungcheong Province, six each in Gangwon Province and North Gyeongsang Province. Three cases were registered in Busan and one each in Gwangju, Ulsan, Sejong and South Gyeongsang Province.

Korea saw its daily new cases exceed 300 for the previous three days, with the number of daily infections in the triple digits since Aug. 14 when 103 new cases were reported.

The average number of locally transmitted cases per day soared from 12 from July 26-Aug. 8 to 162.1 from Aug. 9-22, while the average number of imported cases per day decreased from 21.6 to 12.1 during the same period.

Transmission routes for 18.5 percent of the new cases reported from Aug. 9-22 were unidentified, compared to 8.3 percent during the period of July 26-Aug. 8.

A total of 1,845 schools nationwide got closed as of Monday amid the spread of the coronavirus, according to the Ministry of Education.

Of the eight imported cases, four were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other four detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Five of the newly diagnosed people were foreign nationals. Five came from Asia, two from Europe and one from the United States.

So far, 14,219 of the 17,665 people found to have caught the new coronavirus, have been released from isolation upon making full recoveries, up 19 from a day earlier. Some 3,137 people are receiving medical treatment under quarantine. Thirty-two people are in serious or critical condition.

The death toll remains unchanged at 309. The overall fatality rate amounted to 1.75 percent -- 2.05 percent for men and 1.5 percent for women -- as of Monday. The fatality rate is 22.37 percent for those in their 80s or over and 7.57 percent for those in their 70s.

The country has carried out 1,804,422 tests since Jan. 3, with 47,995 people awaiting results as of Monday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

Operation of Seoul city buses temporarily halted as drivers tested positive

Service on two Seoul city bus routes was temporarily halted Sunday afternoon after three drivers tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Two bus drivers were confirmed to have the virus on Sunday after having come into close contact with a co-worker who tested positive Friday, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government. All three people work for Boseong Transportation.

Of some 192 Boseong employees and their family members who underwent testing, 189 tested negative.

Service was suspended for bus No. 5618 and bus No. 6512 -- those driven by the two drivers -- for about four hours and then resumed.

The company is in talks with the city government to adjust the buses’ operating schedules as the infected drivers are undergoing treatment and other drivers who had close contact with them are in self-isolation.

The driver who tested positive Friday was found to have driven a bus for eight hours after he went for testing Thursday. He began exhibiting symptoms Wednesday.

The city government didn’t classify passengers on the bus as close contacts of the driver.

“We didn’t categorize them into those who have had close contact with the driver because footage from the security camera on the bus showed that all passengers were wearing masks and they were keeping their distance from the driver,” said Park Yoo-mi, an official handling disease control at the city government office.

The two buses run through southwestern Seoul.

No. 6512 connects major subway stations in the region such as Seoul National University Station in Gwanak-gu, Sillim Station in Gwanak-gu and Guro Digital Complex Station in Guro-gu.

No. 5618 runs through Garibong-dong and Daerim-dong, Guro-gu, as well as Singil-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu. It also runs past Yeouido Full Gospel Church.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)

Police toughen stance on misinformation, obstruction of antivirus efforts

Police on Sunday vowed to sternly deal with misinformation and actions obstructing the country’s efforts to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, as fears of a second, deadlier wave grow.

In a public statement, the Korean National Police Agency announced it will “thoroughly investigate any attempt to undermine the social trust and threaten the health and safety of citizens.”

Since the virus arrived here in January through Thursday, police have arrested a total 202 people in 127 cases for spreading false information or leaking sensitive private information.

During the initial COVID-19 outbreak, such acts mostly pertained to individual confirmed patients’ personal data and transmission routes, but now “fake news” and misinformation erode the government’s virus prevention measures, the agency said.

False information, rumors and conspiracy theories saying that the current administration is using the coronavirus to conduct a witch hunt against its opponents have challenged the country’s much-praised “3T” strategy of trace, test and treat, with extreme cases reported nationwide of potential virus carriers refusing to get tested, confirmed patients denying their diagnoses and some refusing to cooperate with contact tracing.

A number of YouTube channels carry clips that claim that the government is fabricating test results to inflate the number of infections linked to the Sarang Jeil Church, led by a far-right pastor and vocal critic of President Moon Jae-in, who also led the Aug. 15 anti-government rally.

A purported recording of a phone conversation between a person and an official at a public center in Seocho-gu, southern Seoul, posted on several YouTube channels throughout the week claimed that that person who tested positive for COVID-19 at the public health center later tested negative at a private hospital.

Three videos sharing the recording had more than 536,000 combined views by 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Police on Friday raided the Sarang Jeil Church after two failed attempts by the city of Seoul and health authority officials to secure data on its membership, as well as that of the Aug. 15 rally.

So far, 841 people affiliated with the church have been diagnosed with COVID-19, some of whom attended the rally, defying self-isolation orders, including the church’s pastor himself. A virus breakout among the church’s members was first detected on Aug. 12.

A number of local police agencies on Sunday also searched the homes, offices and churches of pastors suspected of taking their church members to the Aug. 15 rally, after repeated calls for their cooperation to identify those who might have been exposed to the virus were not heeded.

The Seoul city government said it is working to have all listed participants tested for the coronavirus, while it reviews testing members of the Sarang Jeil Church identified on another list of the congregation it obtained from the raid.

The toughened stance by police comes after President Moon last week urged public officials to use “all means at its disposal” to counter those using physical force and misinformation to disturb the government’s efforts.

“If necessary, strictly execute the law by taking (offenders) into custody on site and filing for arrest warrants,” Moon said, adding that the government should show the public that government authority is firmly in place.

Also on Friday, Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae vowed to have anyone intentionally disturbing the government’s quarantine efforts arrested upon investigation and given the highest level of penalization possible.

By Ko Jun-tae (ko.juntae@heraldcorp.com)

KCDC warms of calm before the storm as new COVID-19 cases stay below 300 for 2nd day

South Korea’s daily tally of new COVID-19 cases stayed below 300 for the second consecutive day Tuesday in a week that authorities see as the last opportunity to bring the virus situation under control.

Korea announced 280 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday -- 264 locally transmitted and 16 imported from overseas, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), warned that seemingly stagnant number of infections for the past two days is “the calm before the storm” on the verge of the virus spreading nationwide beyond the Seoul metropolitan area.

“It is very premature to say the upward trend (in COVID-19 infections) has stopped and we see it as a situation under which there are risk factors for a further increase (in infections),” Kwon said at a briefing Tuesday.

Tuesday’s tally, which counts cases up to midnight Monday, marks a slight increase from 266 new cases reported the previous day. Prior to that there were three days of exceeding 300 -- 397 on Sunday, 332 on Saturday and 324 on Friday.

Of the locally transmitted cases, the overwhelming majority were registered in the Greater Seoul area -- 134 in Seoul, 15 in neighboring Incheon and 63 in Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital.

Only 16.4 percent of the hospital beds for those in serious and critical condition are left in the region. In Seoul alone, 44.8 percent of the new cases reported Tuesday had their transmission routes unidentified, according to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Students in the Seoul metropolitan area -- Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon -- will transition to remote learning, except for seniors in high school, with all kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools, and special-purpose schools in the region to remain closed until Sept. 11.

Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae made the announcement at a briefing Tuesday, which was also attended by education superintendents for Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi Province, adding that turning to online learning was inevitable to stem the spread of COVID-19.

The move comes amid a rising number of COVID-19 cases involving students and educators. As of Tuesday, 307 students and 74 teachers had tested positive for the coronavirus, with 2,100 schools shut down again.

For other kindergartens and schools outside the Seoul metropolitan area, existing rules apply -- student attendance is limited to one-third the normal numbers in classrooms for kindergartens, elementary and middle schools, and to two-thirds for high schools.

Even if government social distancing guidance is raised to the highest level, this year’s college entrance exam is to be held offline, Yoo said, citing “fairness.” The date of the exam could change, however, depending on the coronavirus situation.

Outside the Seoul metropolitan area, new cases were reported in all administrative regions except for Ulsan, North Chungcheong Province and North Gyeongsang Province.

New clusters of infections keep popping up simultaneously across the country, ranging from cafes to fitness centers. Fourteen new cases were reported on Tuesday in connection with a fitness center in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province.

At the center of the resurgence of the virus in Korea are the Sarang Jeil Church and a massive rally held Aug. 15 in central Seoul.

The number of cases traced to the Seoul-based church and the rally totaled 915, up 40 from a day earlier. About 64 percent of the confirmed patients are over 50. The church-linked cases spread to 22 establishments, with 120 cases of secondary transmission reported so far.

A total of 193 cases were confirmed in connection with the rally, up 17 from the previous day. The authorities are cooperating with mobile phone companies to identify those who were in the Gwanghwamun Square area on Aug. 15, using location tracking data.

Some 32 percent of confirmed patients are in their 60s has risen in the last two weeks, and the number of people in serious or critical condition has more than tripled from 12 on Aug. 19 to 38 on Aug. 25.

Transmission routes for 16.9 percent of the new cases reported from Aug. 12-25 were unidentified.

Of the 16 imported cases, 13 were identified while the individuals were under mandatory self-quarantine in Korea, with the other three detected during the quarantine screening process at the border. Six cases originated in Asia, eight from the Americas and two from Europe. Thirteen of those patients were foreign nationals.

So far, of 17,945 people confirmed to have the virus in Korea, 14,286 have been released from isolation. Some 3,349 people are still receiving treatment.

One more person died of the coronavirus, with the death toll at 310. The overall fatality rate amounted to 1.73 percent -- 2.03 percent for men and 1.48 percent for women -- as of Tuesday.

The country has carried out 1,825,837 tests since Jan. 3, with 50,362 people awaiting results as of Tuesday.

By Ock Hyun-ju (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

Daegu City Hall partially shut down amid virus patient visit

The city hall of Daegu, South Korea's third-largest city, was partially shut down Tuesday after it became known that a person who tested positive of COVID-19 visited one of its buildings last week, city officials said.

According to officials, the third floor of the city hall's annex building 103 was shut down after a non-employee who tested positive for the new coronavirus made a visit on Aug. 17.

The private citizen, who was in his 60s, was confirmed with the new coronavirus earlier in the day. City hall employees on the floor were ordered to go home.

"We are quarantining the area after learning of the patient's visit," a city official said. Authorities are trying to figure out other locations the person visited.

The metropolis, located 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, was the epicenter of the previous main outbreak in late February and March. (Yonhap)

Moon calls for extraordinary economic measures

President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday called for an “extraordinary economic response” to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic.

Speaking at a Cabinet meeting, Moon said the resurgence of COVID-19 has placed the country’s economy and its efforts to contain the virus in jeopardy.

“If phase two social distancing is prolonged, economic difficulties will grow. An extraordinary economic response is required,” Moon said.

In an apparent reference to the controversy over the government campaign to boost spending, Moon went on to stress that economic measures must move in step with quarantine measures.

“Bear in mind that the economic response must be in harmony with quarantine. Succeeding in quarantine is the way to revive the economy,” Moon said.

The government had drawn heavy fire over campaigns to boost spending -- for example, by providing subsidies for services such as accommodations -- which overlapped with the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases in Seoul and surrounding regions.

Stressing that economic issues must not be overlooked, Moon went on to call on government officials to draw up plans for different COVID-19 scenarios and hinted at the possibility of new measures.

“Assess the impact social distancing is having on the economy and people’s livelihoods, and revise or add emergency economic measures if necessary,” Moon said.

The president also hinted at the possibility of another supplementary budget, calling on officials to review the situation for any shortfall in the measures rolled out as a result of the three previous supplementary budgets.

Moon also stressed that the Korean New Deal must be executed as planned, saying that investment in the future must not be stopped. The Korean New Deal is a massive government-led project that will see over 160 trillion won ($134.8 billion) injected into selected fields with the aim of creating nearly 2 million jobs by 2025.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)

Source: The Korea Herald (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9)
Tags: health, political news, social issues

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