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Vaccination rate nears 30% amid delta variant concerns

Newly confirmed cases stay in 600s for fifth consecutive day

Foreigners arrive at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Foreigners arrive at Incheon International Airport on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Korea’s first dose vaccination rate reached 29.8 percent as of Saturday, health officials said Sunday.

So far, nearly 15.3 million people across the country have received their first jabs since the vaccination drive kicked off on Feb. 26. Of them, 4.6 million, or 9 percent of the population, have been fully inoculated.

Health authorities aim to administer the first rounds of COVID-19 vaccine shots for 70 percent of the population or 36 million people by September, aiming to have 70 percent of the population completely vaccinated by November.

But while vaccinations gain momentum, the country’s number of new infections has not gone down. On Sunday, the country reported 614 confirmed in the previous 24 hours, as the daily figure stayed in the 600s for the fifth consecutive day.

With the country’s new scheme of eased social distancing guidelines set to be effective from Thursday to allow businesses to open longer and permit gatherings of larger groups of people, the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus has emerged as a major concern.

The total caseload of the delta variant infections stood at 190, the Central Disease Control Headquarters said, and 66 more confirmed cases were found to have been linked to them through contact tracing.

“Up to this point, the proportion of delta variant (cases) is low. But the risk of inflow or transmission still exists,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, said Thursday.

“Therefore, it is necessary to keep monitoring and analyzing (the delta variant cases) and strengthen quarantine measures if the level of risk goes up.”

The delta variant, first reported in India, has now spread to at least 92 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

During a press conference last week, Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said that the delta variant has the potential to be more lethal because it is more efficient in the way it transmits between humans.

“It will eventually find those vulnerable individuals who will become severely ill, have to be hospitalized and potentially die,” he added.

Last month, the WHO labeled the delta variant a “variant of concern” to indicate that it has shown to be more contagious, more deadly or more resistant to current vaccines and treatments.

Countries that have relatively higher vaccination rates are seeing the number of daily infections surge due to delta variant cases. In particular, the UK reported its highest daily COVID-19 case count since February, as 18,270 people tested positive for the coronavirus.

The delta variant accounted for approximately 95 percent of all cases that were transmitted across the UK, according to Public Health England. The British government data showed that 83.7 percent of the adult population have received their first jabs.

“Two doses of vaccine are far more effective against COVID-19 than a single dose, so please make sure that you come forward to get your second dose as soon as you are invited,” said Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency.

Earlier this month, the PHE’s studies found that two shots of Pfizer’s vaccine cuts the risk of hospitalization after infection with the delta variant by 96%, while a double dose of AstraZeneca’s shot reduces the risk by 92%.

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)

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