Korea to Start Phased Return to Normal Next Month

  • By Bae Jun-yong

    October 08, 2021 09:06

    Korea will start a phased return to normal around Nov. 9, according to Jeong Eun-kyeong, the chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency, on Thursday.

    "We believe 70 percent of the population will be vaccinated by the last week of October," Jeong said. Assuming it takes two weeks for immunity to build up, that would take the country into early November before its experiment in living with the virus can start.

    By Nov. 9, the vaccination rate is expected to approach 80 percent.

    Before starting its phased return to normal in July, the U.K. put in several months of planning, but the Korean government only embraced the idea last month and seems to lack any coherent plan.

    In late August, when 71 percent of its population were fully vaccinated, Denmark said it would lift all lockdown rules on Sept. 10. The U.K. lifted social distancing rules and made wearing masks optional on July 19, when the rate of full vaccination reached only 53.1 percent and the rate of first-shot vaccination just 68 percent. They began a phased return to a normal life when their vaccination rates were lower than Korea's but made preparations for much longer.

    The only plan the Korean government has made so far is to introduce vaccine passports, but it has yet to decide where they will be required and how they can be checked.

    Gimpo International Airport is crowded with travelers getting away for the long weekend on Friday morning. /Yonhap

    Some experts said the country should have already begun a phased return to a normal life since the vaccination rate is increasing and lockdown fatigue is growing.

    Health and Welfare Minister Kwon Deok-cheol told lawmakers at the National Assembly on Wednesday, "We're securing hospital beds for severe cases and making plans for at-home treatment of patients with mild symptoms on the assumption that daily coronavirus infections could reach 10,000 a day once the phased return to a normal life starts."

    Choi Jae-wook of Korea University said, "There'll be collective resistance and big social conflicts if the government, as before, unilaterally pushes ahead with its plans without public debates or careful preparations."

    Korea ranks 17th in the world for first-shot vaccinations at 77.5 percent now the inoculation drive is gaining pace but only 62nd for full vaccination at 54.6 percent. The top countries are Portugal (85.2 percent) and others such as the UAE (83.55 percent), Spain (78.66 percent) and Singapore (77.84 percent).

    Meanwhile, the daily tally of new coronavirus infections stood at 2,176 as of Friday morning.

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