South Korea has signed a deal to buy Covid-19 vaccines for 44 million people, Yonhap news agency has reported, signing deals with four companies: Pfizer, Astrazeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
South Korea reported 594 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday as the government prepared to outline its plans to secure enough vaccine candidates to potentially vaccinate millions of people next year. The elderly, frontline healthcare workers and first responders will be the first vaccinated.
According to Yonhap, South Korea has secured 64 million doses for 44 million people (three of the vaccines need two shots). Vaccines for 34 million will come directly from the drugmakers and 10 million via the WHO. The vaccines ordered are sufficient to cover 88% of the population.
Unlike South Korea’s previous two waves of infections, which were largely focused around a handful of facilities or events, the new wave is being driven by smaller, harder-to-trace clusters in and around the densely populated capital city of Seoul.
Vice health minister Kang Do-tae said the government had been unable to trace the origin of 26% of all cases, and the positivity rate spiked nearly fourfold within a month to about 4%.
“If social distancing is not implemented properly, outbreaks in the greater Seoul area would lead to greater transmissions nationwide,” Kang told a meeting of health officials according to a transcript from the health ministry.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on Monday for expanded coronavirus testing and more thorough tracing as infections continued to rise despite the imposition of increasingly restrictive social distancing measures.
Health authorities predicted daily cases would hover between 550 and 750 this week, and possibly spike to as much as 900 next week.
If such predictions are accurate, Kang said the country’s health system may collapse.
“There could be a dangerous situation where it becomes difficult not only to treat Covid-19 patients but also to provide essential medical services,” he said.
South Korea has now reported a total of 38,755 cases, with 552 deaths.