< Mayor Park Won-Soon’s Briefing >
The outbreak of COVID-19 is now facing a serious crisis. The official number of confirmed COVID-19 patients has reached 156 as a number of cases are confirmed in Daegu, Gyeongbuk. The first death from the coronavirus was also confirmed.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government plans to take urgent and firm measures in order to prevent the virus from spreading in local communities.
The symptoms and prognosis of the confirmed cases could be fatal to people with underlying conditions and the elderly in particular. Since February 10, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has already advised senior welfare centers and centers for senior citizens to close the buildings temporarily. From now on today, the 3,467 local welfare facilities will be temporarily closed until the safety is ensured. The multiuse facilities include senior and social welfare centers.
Yesterday, the Jongno-gu Office announced that Tapgol Park will be temporarily closed. The city government will ban the use of Seoul Plaza, Cheonggye Plaza, and Gwanghwamun Plaza where many citizens gather around. This measure is based on the Article 49.1 of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act, which places a limit on urban rallies to prevent the outbreak of infectious diseases.
Seoul has made effort to prevent the COVID-19 from spreading by cancelling or delaying events. However, every weekend, a large scale of rallies is held near the Gwanghwamun Plaza. In particular, the COVID-19 shows a high fatality rate among the elderly people so the concerns on the virus spread and the health risks are increasing.
Especially, the special measures are necessary because some groups are still planning to push ahead with rallies. The Seoul Metropolitan Government will send a notice about the ban on large-sized rallies from today and will ask the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for cooperation. If violated, the fine less than 3 million won will be imposed to individuals.
Also, it has confirmed that Shincheonji sect, which is also known as “Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony” in Daegu becomes a hotbed of the infections in local communities. The confirmed cases in Jeonju and Gwangju are found to be related to the church in Daegu. Another confirmed patient in Seoul attended the chapel in that church as well.
As such, in order to proactively prevent the further spared of the virus, Seoul will take a measure so that the Shincheonji Churches in Seoul will be closed. So far, there are four propagation offices in Seoul including Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seodaemun-gu, Nowon-gu, and Gangseo-gu. The Shincheonji Church says that it takes preventive measures on their own, but the responsibilities of disease prevention and disinfection lie with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, so Seoul will directly take the actions.
Anyone who attended the chapels of the Shincheonji Church in Daegu or contacted with them is required to call 1339 or 120 for report. Seoul will quickly get the name list and carry out the complete enumeration survey. This is an inevitable measure to ensure and protect the health, safety and life of citizens. In order to proactively prevent the COVID-19 from spreading in local communities, Seoul will exert all its administrative effort to make best use of it.
< Q&A >
Question. You said Seoul will ask the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for cooperation. Is it Seoul’s own decision without discussion with the relevant agencies?
Answer. Yes, it is necessary to have the support from citizens to see the practical outcome. Otherwise, we should place a ban on it. However, there is a limit to what Seoul can do, so we ask the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency for cooperation.
Question. For the Cheonggye Plaza and Gwanghwamun Plaza, are the rallies but also the use of the Plazas are banned as well? Are even a few people banned to gather in the plaza? Is it the ban on the use or ban on the rallies?
Answer. The freedom of assembly and demonstration is a special right guaranteed in the Constitution. Therefore, it is impossible to place a total ban on it. However, many and unspecified individuals are attending large-scale rallies. Recently, the raillies in Gwanghwamun show a high participation of the elderly. That’s why this special ban is palced for the public health and citizens’ safety. General rallies are being dealyed or cancelled out and that’s how Seoul is advising to do so. International events which have to be held on time are allowed, but even in such cases, preventive measures agains the virus outbreak are required conditions.
Question. Regarding the place with the ban on rallies, is it applied to the 3 plazas only? Will the marches passing these plazas be banned as well?
Answer. Marches are subject to the freedom or right of assembly and demostration. This part belongs to the authority of the Police. Actually, every week in the Gwanghwamun Plaza, a large-scale rally is being held with many eldery citizens attending.
Question. If the rallies were held nevertheless, will they be dissolved by compulsion or will there be no other options but to wait and see?
Answer. According to the Act on the Prevention and Management of Infectious Disease, it is an obligatory regulation that the Mayor of Seoul “shall” do so instead of “can” do so. Also, for the sake of the other’s safety, it is right to refrain from having a rally or demonstration on their own. In order to get a real effect, a physical force has to be exerted if needed. It is difficult to say that the Seoul Metropolitan Government has an enough physical force in case some do not respond to these measures. Seoul will issue notifications about the bans via media or placards to ask to follow it but Seoul also asks the Police for cooperation due to the limit of physical force of the city in case the measures are not properly responded.