Even though disease control authorities and respective ministries and agencies have been working hard, a special meeting to check epidemic prevention and control has been convened again in just three weeks. It aims to further enhance government-wide response levels regarding anti-epidemic measures and vaccinations. Today, the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also participating in the meeting to discuss ways to expand domestic vaccine production capacity and further provide diplomatic support.
Countries around the world are picking up speed with vaccinations, but the total daily number of confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide has continued to reach record highs over the past nine consecutive weeks. The accumulated number of confirmed cases has already surpassed 150 million with the death toll hitting 3.2 million. We face a very grave situation. Korea is controlling the situation relatively well compared to other major countries as seen in the number of daily confirmed cases here hovering around 600 and 700, but it is still precarious. Thanks to the hard work of disease-fighting professionals and cooperation from the people, instances where the virus spreads rapidly are being kept to a minimum. However, any loophole may lead to an exponential increase in confirmed cases.
Fortunately, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Korea is remarkably small as a percentage of the entire population. In particular, our case fatality rate remains exceptionally low compared to that of other similar nations. Among the countries with a population above 30 million, the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains the lowest in Korea. All of this is attributable to Korea’s response working effectively on the ground through its core strengths – COVID-19 preemptive tests, thorough epidemiological investigations and swift treatment. Together with the efficacy of domestically developed treatments, the near complete vaccination of those in high-risk groups has also been of great help. The further expansion of vaccine eligibility going forward will be able to protect our people’s lives in a safer manner.
As of this moment, what matters the most in our epidemic control efforts is not to let our guard down. The Government will remain more vigilant this May – “family month” – when an increasing number of people travel and gather together. Among other things, we will maintain particular alertness against COVID-19 variants. People may feel fatigued and frustrated because of prolonged social distancing restrictions, but I urge everyone to summon the will to endure a little longer and follow essential epidemic prevention rules without fail.
Vaccine imports and inoculations are proceeding more smoothly than originally planned. We have already secured enough doses for twice the population of Korea, and the vaccination campaign is gaining speed: Our target of inoculating 3 million people before the end of April has been surpassed by more than 10 percent. We also received a report that if we continue to put the vaccines being imported in phases into optimal use, we may be able to raise the initial target of inoculating 12 million in the first half of the year to 13 million. I urge you to do all you can to ensure that herd immunity is achieved before our original target of sometime in November.
In addition, vaccine-related information should be disclosed in a transparent manner so that the people will have no fears, and efforts to rectify the misinformation being circulated should be strengthened. In May, Korea will continue to receive stable weekly shipments of the Pfizer vaccine, and the AstraZeneca vaccine will be delivered earlier and in a greater quantity than originally planned. In accordance with detailed government plans, the vaccines have been allocated most effectively for the first and second shots.
Infrastructure construction for mass vaccination is also making rapid progress. A total of 257 inoculation centers have been established across the country, and 14,000 contract-based private centers will begin opening in stages this month. To ensure that the need to provide inoculations does not negatively impact community health centers and local governments’ epidemic prevention efforts, such as epidemiological surveys and the operation of screening stations, I urge you to swiftly devise support measures, for example, by expanding relevant organizations and manpower. I also ask you to make the most of our excellent private-sector medical resources for vaccinations.
Convenient vaccination-related public services should also be further expanded. I would like you to use one hundred percent of our capabilities so that house calls to the elderly and call center hotlines can be strengthened and information can be provided more easily through smartphone apps. In particular, local governments play an important role in vaccination. Both the autonomy and accountability of local governments need to be increased so that the efficiency and speed of vaccinations can be improved in line with situations in different regions.
Amid the unlimited global competition to secure vaccines, obtaining vaccine sovereignty is the most important task. Since development costs are astronomical, I urge you to do all you can by focusing on and boldly supporting highly feasible domestic products, so domestic vaccines developed by Korean companies can be used next year.
Meanwhile, Korea is seizing the spotlight as a country that can become a global hub for vaccine production. Korea has the world’s second-largest biopharmaceutical production capacity, and currently, three types of COVID-19 vaccines developed overseas are being produced here through contract manufacturing or technology transfer. Various plans on cooperation are being discussed for other types of vaccines. If Korea becomes a global hub as an optimal place for vaccine production, it will greatly contribute not only to domestic procurement but also to our becoming a vaccine supplier to Asia and other parts of the world. I ask the public and private sectors to actively cooperate for that goal and to provide all the necessary administrative and diplomatic support possible.
Our economy is recovering rapidly thanks to successful epidemic prevention and control. When the epidemic prevention situation becomes a little more stable, it will boost the recovery of the economy and people’s livelihoods. With the inoculation proceeding, we have begun to see signs of hope that everyday life will be restored. Those who have completed vaccination by getting the second shot are allowed to visit nursing hospitals and facilities and are exempt from self-quarantines. The higher the vaccination rate is, the broader the benefits will be. If the people believe in the Government and continue to cooperate with epidemic prevention and vaccination, it will be possible to accelerate the return to our precious daily routines.