Let us work together to prevent the worst case scenario of adopting much stricter level 3 social distancing measures
Dear citizens of Seoul. I am Seo Jeong Hyup, the Acting Mayor of Seoul.
As of 12:00 a.m. on August 23rd, the number of newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 has reached 2,889 – which is 140 more than the day before. From 12:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. on the same day, 40 more patients were confirmed to have contracted the virus. Over the past week, there have been over 100 newly confirmed cases every single day. The vast majority of these patients were infected through various routes. This is a cause for serious concern, as it raises the risk of a second major outbreak nationwide.
What is even more alarming is the fact that senior citizens above the age of 65 account for 23.3 percent of the entire number of newly confirmed cases over the past 6 days, and patients who are uncertain about their route of infection account for 22.3 percent. The number of group infections have also increased sharply to 11 cases during the same period.
To prevent the worst case scenario of adopting much stricter level 3 social distancing measures, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will take special action with firmer resolve to contain the further spread of COVID-19.
Participants of the August 15th rally and visitors of the Gwanghwamun area are being investigated and urged to receive testing
First, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will complete the investigation of participants of the August 15th rally and visitors of the Gwanghwamun area. We will also urge them to receive testing by August 26th, within 3 days.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government obtained a list of the names and contact information of 10,576 people who are believed to have participated or visited the August 15th rally or the Gwanghwamun area for 30 minutes or longer, from the Central Disaster Management Headquarters. Among the list of 10,576 people, only 6,949 are actually subject to investigation, because the rest are overlapping information. Around 1,000 public officials from district offices across Seoul are conducting the investigation. As of August 22nd, approximately 80 percent of the investigation has been completed. Out of the 80 percent, 1,622 people have received testing, and out of the 1,622 people, 17 have tested positive and 1,400 have tested negative.
There were also 1,299 people who were impossible to get a hold of over the telephone or who refused to receive testing. We will finish conducting the investigation and afterwards cooperate with the National Police Agency to visit them in person and enforce investigation.
To encourage more people to receive testing, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will allow anonymous testing again, which we first allowed when group infections occurred from several clubs in Itaewon. In principle, those getting tested must give their name and contact information. However, if, for any reason, one does not want to reveal one’s personal identity, one can get tested anonymously, by just giving one’s telephone number.
We highly urge all participants of the August 15th rally and all visitors of the Gwanghwamun area to visit a local public health clinic and get tested by August 26th, within 3 days. Those who refuse to get tested but are later found to have contracted the virus will be held responsible; all medical treatment expenses will be charged on the individual and if responsible for spreading the virus to others, disinfection costs will be charged as well.
Second, a total of 2,093 individuals from the Sarang Jeil Church have received testing. The number of newly confirmed cases are declining, as more and more individuals are getting tested. However, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will continue to monitor the situation thoroughly, as the church was the epicenter of the recent surge of newly confirmed cases nationwide. Since last week, we have worked together with the Central Disaster Management Headquarters, the Center Disease Control Headquarters, and the National Police Agency to conduct an epidemiological investigation and have obtained a list of the members of the church and congregation who have participated in the August 15th rally. Currently, the Central Disaster Management Headquarters is working with the National Police Agency, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government to conduct an in-depth analysis. We will make sure that those who are identified as newly confirmed cases receive testing as quickly as possible. We are also making efforts to secure supporting evidence to take legal action soon as well.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government will also conduct site inspections on 3,500 churches throughout the city. For the churches that are found to have pushed ahead with on-site services, we will take strong administrative action, including a restraining order and/or prosecution.
A ‘one strike out’ policy will be applied to more than 50,000 multi-use facilities throughout the city
Third, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will adopt a ‘one strike out’ policy to 12 different types of multi-use facilities. Generally speaking, these facilities are not high-risk facilities that should be closed down, but they are still fairly risky therefore should abide by our guidelines and limit gatherings.
These facilities include 58,353 facilities throughout the city, mostly private educational institutions (with less than 300 students), restaurants (over 150 square meters), movie theaters, performance halls, water parks, etc. Due to level 2 social distancing measures, high-risk facilities have already been closed down, so the risk of these multi-use facilities, which citizens tend to have close interactions with in their daily lives, is becoming increasingly higher.
So far, considering people’s difficult livelihoods, the Seoul Metropolitan Government only took measures such as administrative recommendations, when facilities failed to abide by our guidelines for disease prevention and management. Unfortunately, however, since the situation has become much more serious recently, we have no choice but to take stronger, stricter measures in order to prevent another major outbreak nationwide.
Beginning tomorrow, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and district offices throughout Seoul will conduct joint site inspections. If any violation is found, an immediate two-week ban and suspension will be ordered. Violators may also be subject to immediate prosecution and a fine of less than 3 million KRW. They may also be held responsible for spreading the virus to others and charged with medical expenses and disinfection costs.
The mandatory wearing of masks in Seoul will help establish disease prevention principles for citizens in their daily lives
Fourth, as of 12:00 a.m. on August 23rd, all citizens and visitors in Seoul are required to wear masks, both indoors and outdoors, with the exception of inevitable cases such as intaking food and drinks.
Thankfully, most of the citizens of Seoul are already very cooperative in wearing masks in public. Since May 13th, all passengers using public transportation have been required to wear masks. We hope that the mandatory wearing of masks in all spaces, both indoors and outdoors, in addition to public transportation, will help establish disease prevention principles for citizens in their daily lives and raise further awareness on the seriousness of the situation.
Fifth, the Seoul Metropolitan Government will also strive to secure enough sickbeds for patients in hospitals. Currently, we are working closely with the central government and operating an emergency response team to secure enough sickbeds.
As for community treatment centers, we will establish 3 more of these centers in the Mullae-dong Youth Hostel, the Icheon Korea Defense Language Institute, and a Gyeonggi region public facility and secure 900 sickbeds, in addition to the centers in the Namsan Youth Hostel, the Taereung Korean National Training Center, the Korea Electric Power Corporation Campus, and the Eunpyeong Fire Academy, with 765 sickbeds.
Dear citizens of Seoul. We are faced with the risk of second major outbreak nationwide. If another surge of confirmed cases occur, we have no choice but to adopt stricter level 3 social distancing measures. And in that case, our society and economy might become paralyzed. Our already declining local economy might even collapse.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government is issuing a strong administrative order requiring the mandatory wearing of masks at all times and adopting a strict ‘one strike out’ policy, even though we are fully aware of the inconvenience of citizens and business owners, because these measures might help prevent a bigger and longer lasting crisis.
It is high time to take bold and firm measures to uphold the 2 main principles that the Seoul Metropolitan Government has strived to uphold when tackling an infection disease – “speed” and “transparency.”
Only with the active and continuous cooperation of our citizens can we prevent the worst case scenario of adopting stricter level 3 social distancing measures. We ask in earnest to our citizens for active and continuous cooperation. Please observe healthy and hygienic practices in your daily lives and refrain from going out and attending gatherings. Thank you very much.