South Korean officials promise to accelerate efforts to launch a public vaccination program against the coronavirus.
This comes as the country announced on Monday that it had detected its first cases of the variant of the virus linked to the rapidly increasing infections in Britain.
The new variant, believed to be more communicable than others currently circulating, was found in three people who had entered South Korea from London on Dec. 22, the Korea Disease Prevention and Control Agency (KDCA) said on Monday. ).
South Korea will extend the ban on direct flights from Great Britain for another week until January 7 and will require passengers arriving from that country or South Africa to undergo tests prior to departure, authorities announced.
Overall, the KDCA reported 808 new cases as of midnight Sunday, the lowest level since a record 1,241 infections were recorded on Friday.
Authorities warned that the drop may be due to fewer tests conducted over the weekend and Christmas holidays.
Authorities had also said Sunday they would extend social distancing measures until early January.
The South Korean government has faced mounting national criticism for its vaccine procurement and deployment plans, which require the first vaccines to begin in the first quarter of next year, months after from places like the United States and the European Union.
Negative views on vaccination plans were one of the main reasons that pushed President Moon Jae-in’s disapproval rating to an all-time high of nearly 60 percent, pollster Realmeter said Monday.
Regulators will shorten the period required to approve vaccines and treatments from an average of 180 days to just 40 days, the Food and Drug Safety Ministry announced on Sunday.
An additional approval process for the distribution and sale of vaccines, which generally takes several months, will be shortened to about 20 days, the ministry said.
Medical workers and elderly residents will begin receiving vaccinations in February and plans to vaccinate the general public are accelerating, Moon said Monday.
“There is concern that our country has not obtained enough vaccines or that vaccines are delayed.
“This is not true,” Moon said in a meeting with his top aides, according to a statement.
“We are making efforts to advance the schedule for vaccine adoption.”
South Korea’s plans call for it to buy enough doses to eventually vaccinate 46 million people or more than 85 percent of its population.
Authorities have said they expect the South Korean population to reach a level of herd immunity through vaccines as fast or faster than many other countries.
South Korea has reported a total of 57,680 coronavirus cases, with 819 deaths.