|Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum speaks during a meeting of a government-civilian joint committee handling virus prevention measures at the Government Complex Seoul, Wednesday. Yonhap|
Over 60% of population fully vaccinated
By Bahk Eun-ji
Korea has officially started discussion on "living with COVID-19" measures as the full vaccination rate is expected to reach 70 percent of the population soon, and the nation will need quarantine guidelines different from the current ones that are focused on banning activities and operations.
The government launched a government-civilian joint committee, Wednesday, for the transition to the "living with COVID-19" era, which will collect opinions and give advice for new guidelines, which it aims to announce at the end of this month and implement in November.
Such a move has come as 60 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, and the 70 percent goal, which the government believes as the starting point for herd immunity, is expected to be reached earlier than its initial forecast of Oct. 23.
"After the times of ordeal, we have arrived at the stage to cautiously prepare for a return to normalcy," Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, a co-chair of the committee, said in its first meeting at the Government Complex Seoul.
|People walk through Myeong-dong in downtown Seoul, Wednesday. A government-civilian committee started discussing new quarantine and social distancing measures for a transition toward a "living with COVID-19" scheme, as the nation's full vaccination rate is expected to reach 70 percent soon, the goal which the government had set as a precondition for the transition. Yonhap|
"We don't mean we can take off our face masks right now. It is not possible at this stage," Kim said. "We need measures that can fill the holes and prepare for the worst cases."
According to the committee, the new guidelines will focus on setting up a hospital quarantine system focusing on treating critically ill patients and preventing deaths, and gradually easing social distancing measures for a return to life before the pandemic.
In the new scheme, operating hour limitations and operation bans for public facilities and businesses will be lifted gradually, as well as caps on the number of people at private gatherings.
The 40-member committee, comprised of government officials and experts in various sectors, will also discuss whether to introduce a "vaccine pass," which would give benefits to fully vaccinated people in using public facilities and attending gatherings ― an idea that has drawn controversy for excessive restriction of personal rights and discrimination against people unable to get vaccinated due to legitimate health reasons.
It will also determine how to expand at-home treatment and whether to keep announcing the number of new infections every day as currently being done.
The government and the committee, however, did not provide a specific date to implement the new scheme.
"We'll decide sometime in early November after analyzing the vaccination rate and the number of new cases," health ministry spokesperson Son Young-rae said during a briefing.
As of Tuesday, 60.8 percent of the total population was fully vaccinated, and among adults aged over 18, the rate was 70.7 percent.
The government expects the total population to reach 70 percent within the month as tens of thousands of people are receiving their second shots each day.
Before the new guidelines are drawn up, the government will announce, Friday, whether to extend the current social distancing rules for several weeks more from Oct. 18 or to lower the levels. The current measures ― Level 4 in the Seoul metropolitan area and Level 3 in most other regions ― will expire on Oct. 17.
It is widely expected that regulations may be eased slightly in a way of giving benefits to the fully vaccinated, such as allowing them to use restaurants and cafes until midnight from the current curfew of 10 p.m.