President Moon Jae-in speaks during an interagency meeting on virus response at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters in Seoul on Sunday. (Yonhap)
President Moon Jae-in called on Sunday for all-out efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 infections in South Korea, saying the country's antivirus fight stands at a "crucial phase" before deciding whether to lift the social distancing alert to the highest.
"There is nowhere to step back," he stressed during an interagency meeting on virus response at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasure Headquarters in Seoul.
He presided over the emergency session hours after local health authorities reported 1,030 additional coronavirus infections, the all-time high of daily new confirmed cases since the emergence of the novel coronavirus here.
Moon agreed that the country now faces its "biggest-ever" coronavirus crisis.
"It is a desperate time when (the government) should make all-out efforts to stave off the spread of the coronavirus by concentrating all virus control capabilities and administrative power."
Unless South Korea breaks the trend of growing virus transmissions nationwide "for now," it would have to consider raising the social distancing guidelines to Level 3, the top of the five-tier system.
"It's hard to imagine the pain and damage that (the people) are going to suffer from the elevation to Level 3," the president said.
He appealed to medical staff, healthcare officials and the public to do their best once again, although they are tired of combating the prolonged pandemic.
"If we are truly an antivirus fight model country, it is the very time to prove it," Moon said, adding the "fundamental method" is to track and trace infections as quickly as possible and cut "the link of spread."
He also urged a collective push by the government, local authorities and the private sector to secure sickbeds and treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients amid reports of strains on medical facilities.
"This is the last watershed before vaccine and treatment are used," he added. "Until then, social distancing is the strongest vaccine and treatment. Enhancing social distancing to Level 3 is the last means (to use)."
He instructed the government to thoroughly prepare for the measures and "make a bold decision" if it is deemed inevitable.
He requested the people to abide by existing social distancing regulations and refrain from going out and meeting others during the "emergency situation."
Under Level 3, almost all indoor and outdoor facilities, except essential ones, will be forced to close.
All sporting events will be prohibited, with schools switched to online learning and working from home expanded. (Yonhap)