May 31—8am—Vaccination rate accelerating, vaccination schedules and incentives
Infections: 139,910 | Cleared: 130,381 | Under treatment: 7,572 | Deaths: 1,957
(As of May 30, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The average number of daily new cases remains steady, staying in the mid-500s during the week of May 23 to 29. However, a case of the Indian variant contracted through community spread was found this week. The threat of variants makes rapid vaccination the top priority. The good news is that in just a few days since the general vaccination program for seniors began, 10.5% of the population (as of May 30) have received their first dose. Those aged between 30 and 59 can also apply each day to receive leftover vaccines in case of missed appointments that day, though so far the vaccine centers have rarely had any left over. Contrary to expectations and concerns about vaccine hesitancy, people have been lining up to take the AstraZeneca vaccine, partly because they have seen enough people around them safely taking it, and partly because of the desire to get back to normalcy as soon as possible.
It was also announced on Sunday, May 30, that the United States has agreed to give one million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, almost double the initially promised 550 thousand, to the Korean military. Following safety and risk assessments, Korean military, reserve, civil defense, and diplomatic personnel over age 30 will now be able to book appointments in June to receive vaccinations the same month. Military personnel aged 29 and younger will have to wait until July to book appointments for the Pfizer vaccines. The Moderna vaccines will also arrive in June and these are reserved for the healthcare workers under 30 years of age who were not able to have the AstraZeneca vaccine due to safety concerns.
To encourage rapid uptake of vaccinations, the government has announced several nationwide incentives. First, starting on June 1, seniors over 60 who receive their first dose and spend the first two weeks without complications will be exempt from the current eight-person limit on family gatherings. Family visitations to nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also be allowed from June, which would vastly improve the seniors’ quality of life. Plus, those who can provide a certificate of vaccination will be allowed to enter public parks, museums, palaces, and concerts free of charge or at a discounted price. The plan is to vaccinate 25% of the population with the first dose by July.
July is also when the general population under 60 will start to receive their vaccinations. By July, those who have had their second dose will be exempt from the four-person limit to private gatherings and may attend any small group or family gatherings freely. Those who have had at least one dose may attend religious services without being counted in the 20% limit. They will also be exempt from wearing masks outdoors for walks and exercise, though not at crowded outdoor gatherings. By December, when the government expects 70% of the population to have had both doses, we may even be able to go mask-free indoors.
May 24—7am—High-level vaccine deals
Infections: 135,929 | Cleared: 125,881 | Under treatment: 8,117 | Deaths: 1,931
(As of May 23, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
As the infection numbers remain steady, the bigger news this week was the South Korea-US (KORUS) Global Vaccine Partnership, which was signed on the occasion of President Moon Jae-in’s visit with President Joe Biden. The United States has agreed to provide vaccines for 550,000 South Korean soldiers, but more importantly a deal was struck to manufacture Moderna vaccines in South Korea through Samsung Biologics and Novavax vaccines through SK Bioscience. The production volumes and actual distribution will still be controlled by the vaccine developers, which means the manufactured vaccine may not necessarily be distributed in Korea. It is also unclear whether the mRNA vaccine production technology will be transferred entirely to Korean companies. But the partnership is still expected to help develop Korea’s vaccine technology and production capacity. And hopefully the partnership will also mean a more secure vaccine supply for Korea.
The Social Distancing levels will again stay as they are for the next three weeks, until June 13—Level 2 for the greater Seoul region and Level 1.5 for the rest of the country, with some exceptions in regions that increased restrictions due to outbreaks. The nationwide limit of four people attending private gatherings will also continue. Designated towns in North Gyeongbuk and South Jeolla provinces that had been piloting the new Social Distancing System will continue with the more lenient system under monitoring.
By May 22, 7.4% of the South Korean population had received the first of their two vaccine doses and 3.3% had received both. Most of those vaccinated so far are medical workers and residents in assisted living facilities. Vaccinations for seniors just started a few days ago, on May 22, with those over age 75, and as regular citizens now start to receive their jabs the vaccination rate is expected to rise steeply. So far, about 53% of those over age 60 have made their appointments. People over age 60 must make their appointments by June 3 or they will have to wait for their turn to come around again in October.
May 17—6:30am—Vaccination appointments
Infections:131,671 | Cleared: 121,764 | Under treatment: 8,007 | Deaths: 1,900
(As of May 9, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The average number of new cases last week (May 9–15) stayed just under 600 per day. The KCDA reported that instances of Covid-19 patients needing intensive care had increased in April, partly due to infection clusters in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. At the same time, the mortality rate did not increase in proportion thanks to preemptive testing, new treatment methods, and vaccinations that prioritized the residents and staff of these facilities.
The rest of the citizens aged between 60 and 64 were able to start making vaccination appointments from May 13, which means that all those aged 60 to 74 may now book appointments until June 3. By May 16, 58% of those between 70 and 74, 48.5% between 65 and 69, and 28.4% of those between 60 and 64 had made their appointments. Once the actual vaccinations begin to be administered on May 27, leftover vaccines due to no-shows may be made available for others in any age group, who are ready and willing on the day, through popular internet search portals such as Naver and Kakao. I expect that more details will be released in days to come. By May 16, 7.3% of the population had received at least the first of the two vaccine shots, and 1.8% had completed the two-shot schedule. The government remains optimistic that Korea will reach a level of herd immunity by November.
May 10—6:30am—Numbers remain steady
Infections:127,309| Cleared: 117,423 | Under treatment: 8,012 | Deaths: 1,874
(As of May 9, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
The pandemic was not in the headlines much this week. Covid-19 numbers remained steady, averaging 565 new cases per day in the week of May 2 to 8. The proportion of untraceable cases continues to be around 30%.
The government has been taking vaccination appointments for those aged between 70 and 74 since May 6. People aged between 65 and 69 may also start making appointments from today. The vaccinations for both age groups will start to be administered from May 27.
May 3—8am—Numbers staying in the 600s, easing into the revised Social Distancing System
Infections: 123,240 | Cleared: 112,865 | Under treatment: 8,542 | Deaths: 1,833
(As of May 2, 12:00am. Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare)
May 3 is the starting date of another three-week period after which the Covid numbers and restrictions will be reviewed. Nothing much will change today about the Social Distancing levels (Level 2 for Greater Seoul and Level 1.5 for the rest of the country, with some exceptions) or the four-person limit to private gatherings.
In the week of April 25 to May 1 the average number of daily cases fell to 597, from 659 in the previous week, though most days the number of cases stayed above 600. The KDCA credits the decrease partly to the bar and nightclub closures that were implemented in the greater Seoul region three weeks ago, as well as increased outdoor activities thanks to warmer weather. However, 31.5% of the cases still remain untraced.
The trial period for the revised Social Distancing System in North Gyeongsang Province was assessed to have been successful and will be extended in the region for another three weeks. From today, 22 towns and cities in South Jeolla province will also try the revised system. That means private gatherings of up to six people, and events with up to 300 people will be permitted for a week (May 3–9). If the vaccinations progress as scheduled and the average number of daily cases stays below 1,000 through June, this revised system that generally eases business restrictions will be implemented nationwide in July.
Over 3 million people had been vaccinated with their first doses by April 30, which is ahead of schedule. Around 80% of the staff and patients in assisted care facilities have been vaccinated.