South Korea plans to ease out of most COVID-19 restrictions in the summer to stimulate the economy, the Ministry of Health and Welfare said Sunday, while cases are once again on the rise.
“Rather than keeping up with a set of restrictions that is wreaking havoc on the economy, especially the Korean middle class, the government plans to introduce more relaxed guidelines from July,” ministry spokesperson Son Young-rae told a news briefing. “The aim is to shift toward less economically damaging policies.”
He said the new guidelines, to be announced in full before the end of this month, were being talked through with some 40 business confederations and other concerned parties.
This would be in addition to the waivers from certain social distancing rules that people will be able to enjoy after a first dose of a vaccine. Face masks will become optional outdoors from July for the semi-vaccinated, and they will also be able to mingle in public spaces such as cafes and restaurants in larger groups.
Son said, however, that until more vulnerable groups are able to get the vaccine over the course of the rest of June, people needed to take safety protocols seriously.
“The cases aren’t increasing at an alarming rate, but it’s important to practice social distancing and take other steps to prevent another surge,” he said. The average number of locally transmitted cases reported each day was 578.4 over the past week, up 2.9 percent from the week prior.
Since the first COVID-19 vaccine was administered in Korea on Feb. 27, more than 9 million people -- 14 percent of the population -- have received at least one injection. So far the two vaccines being deployed in the country are from AstraZeneca and Pfizer, each of which is given in two doses.
The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says COVID-19-related deaths have fallen by 60 percent compared with the first two months of this year. For the more than 53,000 people who have tested positive since the vaccination campaign started, the death toll is less than 0.8 percent. This compares with 1.8 percent in January and February.
Until March, the vaccination campaign targeted front-line workers at hospitals as well as residents and staffers at long-term care facilities, which suffered devastating outbreaks during the winter surge. In early April, the coverage was extended to people aged 75 and older and to workers of all ages in essential fields. People in their 60s and early 70s became eligible 10 days ago.
Over the next few weeks, vaccinations will be open to people with certain medical conditions and to teachers and other employees at kindergartens and primary schools. All 1 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that arrived Saturday will go to current and former service members per an arrangement with the US.
The government said it would commit to vaccinating 13 million people with at least one dose by the end of June -- and possibly a million more people, now that the Johnson & Johnson vaccines are here.
Beyond this month, the plan is still unclear. In July people in their 50s will have a turn at a shot, and so will high school seniors who are sitting the college entrance exam in November.
The vaccines won’t reach people in their 20s through their 40s until August at the earliest. By the end of September about 70 percent of the country will have received a first vaccination, according to the goal set by the government.
People younger than 30, who can’t get the AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines due to the risk of rare blood clotting side effects, will be allotted vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna or Novavax.
In the last seven days Korea administered an average of 331,274 vaccine doses a day. The number of fully vaccinated people, meaning they have received two shots, stands at 2,279,596 or 4.4 percent of the entire population.
By Kim Arin (email@example.com