(11:00 AM, Monday, May 20, 2020)
Seoul establishes the Seoul-type standard disinfection model and reinforces the medical system for response to disasters.
Today, I would like to speak to our citizens about measures for the establishment of the Seoul-type standard disinfection model and the reinforcement of the medical system for response to disasters that the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been carefully preparing and working on while on the frontline fighting COVID-19 over the past 120 days.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has been preemptively investing in the public medical system based on the city’s experiences overcoming the infectious disease MERS five years ago. Thanks to these actions, we were able to prevent massive collective infections of COVID-19, maintaining a low fatality rate. Seoul also has great citizens who have actively participated in the government’s policies, which also contributed to the success of disinfection in a megacity of 10 million people. As a result, the Republic of Korea and Seoul have become the international standard under the name, “K-prevention.”
－ Number of confirmed cases in Seoul, the megacity of 10 million people: 741 (0.008%); Number of deaths: 4 (0.53%) ※ As of May 18
－ Exceptionally low rate of confirmed cases (0.008%) and fatality rate (0.53%) compared to those of other major cities around the world
However, we still have a long way to go. We should be prepared for the second and third waves of COVID-19 that may come at any moment. The SMG has been contemplating and discussing ways to reinforce the medical system for mid- to long-term responses to disasters. Our urgent analysis gave us the answer. We immediately need a more delicate response system to contagious diseases, an expanded public healthcare system, and storage for disinfection supplies.
Seoul will be prepared. We will make Seoul safe by dramatically reinforcing the public healthcare system and its capacity for responding to infectious diseases.
By establishing the standard disinfection model, the city will make efforts in the three major categories of reinforcing the municipal government’s foundation for response to infectious diseases, strengthening the medical resources for disinfection, and establishing a response system in preparation for the second wave. As we overcame MERS in 2017, we will overcome COVID-19 in 2020. Not settling for the status of the leading city for K-prevention, Seoul will make itself a “city of international disinfection standards in response to infectious diseases” based on thorough preparations.
<1. Establishment of 7 Alert Levels of the Seoul-type Response to Contagious Diseases>
First, the SMG will subdivide the response stage to contagious diseases into 7 steps.
The central government set 4 alert levels for response to communicable diseases: Attention – Caution – Warning – Critical.
In order to act more swiftly in the realities and situations of a local government, the SMG will subdivide the steps, “Warning” and “Critical,” into two steps respectively, making Warning 1 and Warning 2, Critical 1 and Critical 2, as well as add another step, “Recovery.”
<2. Establishment of Infectious Diseases Research Institute and Epidemiological Survey Center, the First among Local Governments>
Second, the SMG will reinforce the functions of the control tower of response to infectious diseases. As the first among local governments, the SMG will establish an “Infectious Diseases Research Institute” and an “Epidemiological Survey Center.”
One of the keys to success for the recent COVID-19 disinfection is the central government’s complete acceptance of measures suggested by local governments based on real situations. This enabled the transparent disclosure of information, including confirmed patients’ paths of movement paths, designated drive-through screening centers, and anonymous testing.
If Seoul operates its own Infectious Diseases Research Institute and Epidemiological Survey Center, the functions of the control tower of the municipal government in responding to contagious diseases will be strengthened, helping the city to take the lead in controlling the scene and cooperate closely with the central government.
First, the “Infectious Diseases Research Institute,” which will be complete by the end of the year, will be made up of related experts who will be in charge of predicting the trends of the epidemic and devising countermeasures. Through the establishment of the “Epidemiological Survey Center” for fast and professional epidemiological surveys, the city will dramatically increase the competence of the Immediate Response Team and epidemiological investigators of autonomous districts who greatly contributed to the response to COVID-19.
Furthermore, the SMG will establish the “Disinfection Management Team” that will be responsible for permanent disinfection control, such as developing the guidelines and manual for distancing in daily life, securing and distributing disinfection supplies, and more. The Innovative Operation Center of Municipal Hospitals will be established in the Seoul Health Foundation to reinforce and control the response capacity to disasters, including infectious diseases, of the public healthcare system.
Through the establishment and reinforcement of these new organizations, we will unify the process from research on contagious diseases to the execution of policies, boosting the functions of the local government as a control tower.
<3. Expansion of Public Healthcare Institutions in Each Region and Establishment of a Private-public Cooperation System>
Third, the SMG will greatly reinforce the public healthcare system to be prepared even if massive collective infections, such as those in Daegu and Gyeongsangbuk-do Province, occur in Seoul. It is the role of the public healthcare system to take responsibility and protect the city in the case of contagious diseases.
The SMG has made bold investments in the public healthcare system, including the infrastructure of municipal hospitals, negative pressure rooms, visiting rooms, and entrance and exit systems, bearing a yearly deficit of KRW 100 billion. We performed such actions based on what we learned from the MERS situation. Such actions played a core role in the success of disinfections during the COVID-19 crisis.
However, we cannot be sure that COVID-19 is gone for good in Seoul, as we have seen new explosions of contagion in Wuhan, China and Shincheonji in Daegu. Thus, the SMG will be thoroughly prepared to prevent the healthcare system from collapsing and secure enough hospital beds in the worst scenario of 1,000 confirmed cases per day in the city.
We cannot just rely on the public healthcare system if we want to be prepared for massive, collective infections. This is why the SMG will be preemptively building a private-public medical system for disasters based on cooperation with private hospitals. The municipal government will closely collaborate with about 50 hospitals located in Seoul to create a medical system for disasters where we can promptly recruit public and private medical resources in a crisis.
<4. Expansion of Public Healthcare Human Resource Pool>
Fourth, the SMG will expand the human resource pool of public healthcare for response to contagious diseases and the public healthcare service.
The expansion of the public healthcare human resource pool is required to respond swiftly to infectious diseases. To reinforce the capacity to respond to contagious diseases, the SMG will nominate one doctor in each community health center of autonomous districts to fully take charge of contagious diseases by the end of the year. Next year, the SMG will gradually increase the number of public medical personnel, following the recruitment of 13 doctors, infectious disease physicians, and respiratory physicians for the municipal hospitals. The related expenses will be reflected in the supplementary budget.
We also have plans to become the nation’s first local government to open a public medical school for the stable expansion of the public healthcare human resource pool and cultivation of talents in special fields of high public interest, such as emergency & trauma care, epidemiological survey of infectious diseases, and hospice care, for which securing personnel is difficult from the existing medical school system.
We tried to establish a public medical school to cultivate public medical personnel, but were discouraged due to disagreement from a variety of stakeholders. However, we cannot be delayed anymore. We need more professional public medical personnel. This is the right time to establish a public medical school as, with the outbreak of COVID-19, all citizens agree with the necessity to cultivate a public medical labor pool. I believe it is the demand of the times and the citizens.
The SMG will advance to establish the public medical school in close cooperation with the central government as well as other local governments. If needed, we can discuss ways to establish one together with several local governments.
During the last general election, the ruling party pledged to designate hospitals to be specialized in infectious diseases and expand the capacity of medical schools to improve the public healthcare system. We will also maintain close cooperation to prepare measures for the cultivation of public medical personnel of the local government.
<5. We will prepare the “Ark of Seoul.”>
Fifth, we will build the “Ark of Seoul,” or the “integrated storage center for the management of Seoul’s disaster resources,” to seamlessly respond to a re-dissemination of the contagious disease by stocking up on disinfection supplies as a local government. The city will secure, manage, and control the supplies for disinfection and medical care to prevent difficulties in obtaining disinfection supplies during a sudden transmission, as we saw in the case of COVID-19.
The city will be thoroughly prepared for emergencies in the future by securing enough medical and disinfection supplies, from hand sanitizer used in occurrence of contagious diseases, portable negative pressure devices, negative pressure tents, and negative pressure ambulances to vaccines and protective clothing.
<6. Preparation of a System for a 2nd Wave>
Many experts predict the possibility of a second wave in the fall. The SMG will be completely ready for the second wave.
To this end, the detection of transmission by asymptomatic patients and its prevention are the most important tasks.
Therefore, the SMG will be implementing preemptive testing for COVID-19. Today is the first meeting of the Preemptive Testing Council, where we will discuss the direction for practical operation, including how to select the target groups for preemptive testing.
Additionally, we will increase the number of designated screening centers for prompt response in case of a second wave and reinforce their functions. The number will be increased from 46 to more than 100, and the traveling specimen collection team will be operated for inmates of geriatric hospitals and the severely disabled.
I have shared with you our plans to establish a standard disinfection model in the post-coronavirus age.
The SMG will courageously move forward with the great citizens of Seoul as an internationally leading “city of standard response to infectious diseases” based on the city’s accumulated experiences during the MERS crisis, the swift and transparent disinfection measures that were practiced to fight COVID-19, and the reinforced disinfection system with the participation of citizens.
If Seoul collapses, Korea collapses.
Disinfection in Seoul must succeed for disinfection to succeed throughout Korea.
Seoul will always be on the frontline in the battle against COVID-19.
The vaccine for the city of Seoul is its unwavering citizens. Thank you.