|Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol, right, and Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong attend the National Assembly's audit of the health ministry and the KDCA, Wednesday. Joint press corps|
By Jun Ji-hye
The government is pushing to introduce its "Living with COVID-19" phase Nov. 1 at the earliest, as the nation's vaccination rate is expected to reach 70 percent in the coming days, according to Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-cheol.
Kwon said the government was "considering" beginning the plan that day, under which the health authorities will ease social distancing measures and focus more on managing critically ill patients rather than all virus cases.
The minister made the remarks during the National Assembly's audit of the health ministry and the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), Wednesday.
Kwon's comments indicated that the schedule for the policy shift could be moved up by about a week, as the government had previously said the change could take place around Nov. 9.
The earlier-than-expected policy switch comes as the nation's vaccination rate has been gaining speed.
KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong told the Assembly session, "We expect the vaccination rate to reach 70 percent between Oct. 23 and 25 and 80 percent in November."
The 70 percent mark is the level under which the government believes the country can attain herd immunity.
|A medical worker guides people at a public health center in Seoul's Songpa District, Thursday. Yonhap|
On Oct. 13, the government launched a committee of experts from the private sector to discuss measures to achieve a phased return to "normal life."
The committee consists of four subcommittees in charge of medical responses, the economy, culture and safety.
Among these four areas, the government will announce a draft of policy shifts for the medical field next Monday, according to Sohn Young-rae, a spokesman for the health ministry, Thursday.
Sohn said that the draft will be unveiled during a public hearing, where measures will also be discussed to adjust social distancing rules in addition to medical responses.
"Ahead of this, the government will hold an expert forum on Friday to collect a variety of opinions for a gradual return to normalcy," Sohn said during an online briefing.
Meanwhile, KDCA Commissioner Jeong said the government is consulting with global pharmaceutical companies with the aim of receiving oral COVID-19 treatments in January or February.
Among global pharmaceutical firms, Merck has been ahead of its competitors in developing oral COVID-19 treatments, applying to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month for the emergency use authorization of Molnupiravir (MK-4482).
Jeong added that the government had originally planned to secure medicine for about 40,000 people, but would probably need more.
"We would need 10 times more medicine than originally envisioned. I ask the Assembly to secure the necessary budget," she said, noting that the government is talking to three global pharmaceutical companies to preemptively secure new treatments.