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Korea will see some return to normal in summer: minister

June vaccination goal of 14 million people to be cleared, with time to spare

June 7, 2021 - 18:50 By Kim Arin
Kwon Deok-cheol, the Minister of Health and Welfare, speaks during a news briefing Monday afternoon. (The Ministry of Health and Welfare)

This summer could feel more normal now that more South Koreans can get COVID-19 vaccines, Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol said Monday.

The minister told a news briefing that based on the current trajectory, the goal of vaccinating 14 million adults with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of this month could be met “even sooner than previously thought.”

“This means that by that point, more than a quarter of Koreans will have been vaccinated. The vaccines will help bring something that looks more like normal this summer,” he said.

“From next month social distancing will be waived for people after their first COVID-19 shots in certain settings. They also won’t be required to wear face masks outside,” he said. He added that in addition to the vaccine-related restriction waivers, there will be further easing of the public health guidelines.

“July will be a month we edge back toward normal,” he said.

He said that between July and September vaccine eligibility will open up to people in their 50s and younger.

President Moon Jae-in aims to vaccinate 36 million people, more than 70 percent of Korea’s population of 51 million, with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by September.

So far 7.5 million people have received one dose of a vaccine, and an average of about 331,000 were added to that total each day over the past week. The number of people who have completed their vaccination series stands at 2.2 million, or 4.4 percent of the population.

But there is much to do for the remainder of June, when the vaccination of vulnerable populations is supposed to be completed.

Only 42 percent of people aged 75 and above had been fully vaccinated as of Sunday, despite more than 85 percent of them having scheduled appointments. People in their mid-60s to early 70s became eligible for their first shots less than two weeks ago. For people in their early 60s, vaccinations finally opened up Monday.

Korea is enjoying a high vaccine uptake to date, according to the ministry data. No-show rates are close to zero -- more than 98 percent of people who book vaccinations end up receiving them.

Vaccination of current and former service members aged 30 and older with the US-supplied Johnson & Johnson vaccine will begin Thursday. All of the slots for the 1 million doses of the one-shot vaccine filled up in a matter of hours last week. For military personnel younger than 30, the Pfizer vaccine will be used instead. Some 358,000 military people under 30 have agreed to get the shot starting this week as well.

Meanwhile, the daily count of new infections continues to stay in the 500 to 700 range. The number of locally transmitted cases recorded per day was 578 in the last week, up slightly from 562 the week prior. About a quarter of all cases confirmed recently were deemed “untraceable.”

The pandemic has sickened 144,637 and killed 1,974 to date in Korea, according to official statistics.

By Kim Arin (