As COVID-19 cases continue to rise relentlessly amid the colder season, experts around the world have warned we’re headed for a tough winter, even with a vaccine on the way. We discuss the situation in South Korea and the efforts being made to fight the coronavirus while preparing for a broad scale vaccination.
For this, we’re joined by David Kwak, a Physician at the Soonchunhyang University Hospital in Seoul. How are you this morning?
We welcome back Ben Cowling, Professor and Head of the Division of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health. It’s great to see you again.
1. Dr. Kwak: First of all, authorities have warned South Korea may hit 900 cases a day this week, or even top 1,000 if social distancing guidelines aren’t followed properly. What has been the reason behind this very sudden spike in the numbers when we seemed to have it so under control in the spring if you remember, the government was encouraging us to go out, dine, shop, and travel just weeks ago offering us massive discounts in restaurants, theatres, hotels. What’s going on?
2. The Korea Medical Association pushed for Level 3. What is the reasoning behind the government’s decision to keep the restrictions at Level 2, and is it effective to have this cyclical easing and tightening of restrictions?
3. Dr. Cowling: East Asian countries were praised for flattening the curve during the early months of the pandemic, as well as showing strong social compliance with restrictions in daily life. But do you think members of these societies are getting rather tired of this easing and tightening of restrictions?
4. Dr. Cowling: It looks like Western countries like the UK, the U.S. and Europe are quickly working to distribute the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But countries like South Korea and Australia are not in too much of a hurry and focusing on keeping the infection numbers down. What do you think about the two different approaches?
5. Dr. Kwak: The South Korean government only recently sealed the deal with AstraZeneca, when countries like the UK, U.S. and Japan procured millions of doses from major vaccine developers months ago. Some say this is irresponsible. Was there a particular reason for moving so slowly and without much transparency?
6. Dr. Cowling: Britain is going start administering Pfizer vaccines today. How was it possible for the British to start distribution as quick as it has, and what developments are you hoping to see that will mark this a success?
7. Dr. Kwak: Vice Health Minister Kim Kang-lip suggested South Korea could start vaccinating people from the second quarter of next year and that’s if things move fast. If this does happen, how long do you think it would take South Korea to hit the 70 percent immunity threshold?
8. Dr. Cowling: South Korea’s SK Bioscience signed a deal with Astra Zeneca to produce the Oxford vaccine. What are the advantages of manufacturing the vaccine in South Korea?
How would it benefit neighbors in the region, especially those in Southeast Asia which would find Moderna and Pfizer’s logistical requirements challenging?
9. Dr. Kwak: There are also vaccines being developed locally, with 5 of them under clinical trials. While they might be behind compared to the global frontrunners, are we seeing steady progress? Also, what sets DNA technology-based vaccines that a number of South Korean developers are working on apart from the mRNA, protein, and viral-based candidates?
That was Dr. David Kwak at the Soonchunhyang University Hospital in Seoul and Dr. Ben Cowling, Professor and Head of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of Hong Kong School of Public Health.
Thank you both for your time.