President Moon Jae-in responds to questions from members of the public during a town hall held in Seoul’s Yeouido on Sunday afternoon. (Blue House pool photo)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a town hall on Sunday that he “trusts the Cabinet’s decision” regarding emergency disaster relief payments and that “support will be prioritized for those who have been most affected.”
This means that the government will focus aid on small business owners and other groups that have been highly affected by the pandemic, rather than more universal relief funds for the public. Moon also said the government plans to bring COVID-19 pills into the country “by next February at the latest” and “will work to accelerate that timeframe.”
Moon said he thought the emergency relief should be paid selectively to impacted groups during a town hall meeting that was broadcast on KBS on Sunday evening.
“The government has allocated funding in several supplementary budgets to compensate the losses of small business owners, but small business owners themselves probably feel that hasn’t been adequate. The government will work to make their compensation as meaningful as possible,” Moon said during the town hall.
“We were the world’s first country to legislate compensation for losses [due to the pandemic], and the government will work to use surplus tax revenue to provide more compensation. We will do our best to provide more assistance to sectors that have previously been excluded from compensation, including sightseeing, travel, culture and arts,” the president added.
In regard to oral antivirals for COVID-19, Moon said, “The government has concluded purchasing contracts for enough medication to treat 400,000 people. Our plan is to bring it into the country by next February at the latest, and we’ll work to accelerate that timeframe.”
“Considering that crisis management is continuing day after day, six months is not a short amount of time. We will stay vigilant, maintain our focus, and work diligently until this is over,” Moon said.
“I’ll keep doing my best to lead this country until the end [of my presidency],” Moon said.
The last time Moon held this kind of town hall meeting was two years ago, in November 2019.
He further expressed “some trepidation” about the rise in total confirmed COVID-19 cases and severe and critical cases amid the recent shift toward a gradual return to everyday life.
“The number of confirmed cases has been above 3,000 for five days in a row,” he noted, adding that “a rise in confirmed cases was actually predicted when we began the gradual return to daily life.”
“In its preparations, the government is anticipating that the [daily confirmed case] numbers could rise as high as 5,000 or 10,000. But there are concerns that as the number of severe and critical patients rises rapidly, it will leave our sickbed situation stretched thin,” he said.
“We are not going to stop the gradual return to daily life just because the number of confirmed cases rises,” he said.
At the same time, he added, “It is possible that if we reach the point where our healthcare system can no longer cope with the [number of] severe cases, we may be forced to adopt emergency members or temporarily pause the return to daily life.”
Moon further noted that he had “apologized many times for our real estate issues.”
“I would have liked to have seen more efforts focused on the housing supply,” he continued, pledging to “find a way toward a solution by the end of my term so that the problems are not passed on to the next administration.”
By Lee Wan, Oh Yeon Seo and Seo Young-ji, staff reporters
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