70% vaccination rate is almost there
As of Thursday, a little over 35 million people, or 68.2 percent of the total population, were completely vaccinated, meaning Korea was just 940,603 shy of the number needed to reach 70 percent.
“We expect the total vaccinated rate to reach 70 percent on Saturday at the earliest,” said Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum during a meeting at the government complex in central Seoul on Friday. “We’re getting closer to the condition needed to launch a step-by-step relaxation of [social distancing] measures.”
Since the fourth wave of Covid-19 infections began in mid-July, Korea's strongest wave, the highest level of social distancing measures, Level 4, has been maintained in the greater Seoul area, which consist of Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon. The rest of the country has been under Level 3 measures.
These measures restrict the number of people allowed to gather privately, and the hours of operations of restaurants, bars, cafes and other commercial and public facilities.
Health authorities were waiting for 70 percent of the population to be fully vaccinated before introducing a new set of rules called “With Corona," the equivalent of the outside world's “With Covid” measures. The country is supposed to learn to live with a certain level of infections, and treat the coronavirus as an infectious respiratory disease like seasonal influenza.
“In the initial stage, we will focus on relaxing the measures for those who are completely vaccinated,” Kim said. “It is inevitable that we do so, because vaccination significantly reduces both infection and mortality rates.”
Kim added that health authorities are considering introducing a type of vaccine passport to allow the vaccinated, or those with negative PCR results, access to commercial and public facilities.
“But we will make sure that the measures are as inclusive and fair as possible, as we will have to take into consideration the people who cannot be vaccinated because of specific health conditions,” Kim said.
Health authorities are expected to release detailed guidelines on the measures next week.
“The relaxation of the measures will happen gradually and at a speed much slower than expected by the general public,” said Kim. “We ask everyone’s understanding.”
It is yet to be seen if the new measures will relax quarantine requirements for foreigners visiting Korea. Starting Oct. 5, Korea began recognizing overseas vaccinations to allow exemptions to the 14-day quarantine, but on a very limited scale.
For foreign visitors, quarantine exemption is granted only to people coming for important business, academic, public interest or humanitarian purposes. They can apply for quarantine exemption certificates before traveling to Korea, and then enter the country without quarantine.
Starting Wednesday, Korea started recognizing overseas vaccinations for residents of Korea. Those who are living in Korea and were vaccinated during a trip abroad can waive the 14-day quarantine in Korea upon their return if they submit documents proving their vaccination abroad to health authorities.
Korea added 1,440 new cases of Covid-19 infection on Thursday, of which 20 were imported, bringing the total caseload to 348,969, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
A total of 16 people died of Covid-19 infection from Wednesday to Thursday, bringing the total number of deaths to 2,725, and the death rate to 0.78 percent.
A total of 25,927 were being treated, of whom 342 were in critical condition, as of Thursday.
The number of new Covid-19 cases has been declining since it peaked at 3,273 on Sept. 24, falling below 2,000 on Oct. 9 and hovering around the 1,500 level for the past week.
BY ESTHER CHUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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