Yesterday, I met with small and medium business owners and merchants in Seoul, listened to the financial difficulties and issues that the MERS outbreak has caused them, and discussed how Seoul could provide assistance. We will overcome this economic crisis together through “Cui Zhou Tong Shi,” an old Chinese saying that I will describe below.
The following was my speech to the business owners.
Presidents of small and medium businesses, leaders of the local economy, it is my pleasure to be here with you today. Every day the MERS crisis continues, you are sustaining more and more financial damage. Today, we would like to offer an explanation of the situation. And if you can give us any specific suggestions, we will promptly implement those of immediate use and carry out mid- to long-term measures progressively in order to minimize the damage. We are planning to implement various measures aimed at reinvigorating the economy.
It has already been a little over a month since the beginning of the MERS outbreak, during which time we have had 166 confirmed cases and 24 deaths. The Seoul Metropolitan Government understands the gravity of this crisis, and we are taking firm action in the early stages. We believe that doing so is critical to preventing the further spread of the virus. We also believe that keeping our citizens safe is of the utmost importance, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government is wholly concentrating our energy and capabilities to that end.
City medical associations and clinics have been established at each gu (district) office, and 14 municipal hospitals—particularly, Seoul Medical Center—are caring for confirmed MERS patients. Throughout the past month, these medical personnel have endured extreme fatigue, yet despite that, I can say with confidence that they are doing their best at the frontlines of this public health crisis. Overcoming MERS as soon as possible is important, yet the economic consequences of the outbreak have persisted for one month already and will last for a considerable time longer. So right now, we are all worried about how to reinvigorate the economy in the aftermath of the outbreak. In this regard, we know that only our best will suffice.
Our economic growth outlook for this year was 3.7 percent, but it has been downgraded to 2.8 percent. If the effect of MERS continues for another three months, the social cost is expected to be as high as 20 trillion won, and the expected number of foreign tourists to Korea will decrease to 108,000, creating 120 billion won of damage to the tourism industry in the month of June alone. In this situation, I can’t even begin to imagine the financial damage inflicted on small and medium businesses in Seoul.
While saying “Stop MERS and Restore People’s Lives,” we have been focused on preventing the spread of the outbreak. But, at the same time, we believe it is important to vitalize Seoul’s economy and the lives of our citizens. So, we have come up with an emergency support measure. We will inject into the economy 200 billion won in emergency aid for small businesses; we will protect and grant loans to micro and small businesses that have incurred direct and indirect damage from MERS; and we will provide consultations for restaurants and other businesses closely related to the livelihood of citizens as well as about 1 million won in aid for each eligible business, totaling 40 to 50 million won. In addition, we are discussing the possibility of providing one month’s worth of living expenses for those hospitalized or under home quarantine, as well as executing Seoul’s budget earlier than usual. However, considering the scale of indirect damages inflicted on our citizens, I believe even all of this will not be enough.
There is a Chinese saying, “Cui Zhuo Tong Shi.” It means that if a chick wants to break free of the egg, it must work hard to break the shell, but the mother hen needs to peck at the egg from the outside as well. This is the kind of effort we need. If you work hard to run your businesses from inside the economy and we work hard helping you from the outside, we believe we will be able to overcome the MERS crisis together. If you share with us your thoughts on what we should do together, we will do our best to use your ideas to help overcome this crisis. Thank you.