I have Kim Ji-yeon here in the studio with details.
Ji-yeon do start us off with an overview of the local situation.
Korea reported close to 700 new infections for the third-straight day, with the tally yesterday being the second-highest on record.
This is mainly due to infections in the Seoul metropolitan area which reported more than 500 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday, the highest number of daily infections in the capital area since the start of the outbreak.
These include cases stemming from cluster infections at a poker bar in Itaewon, a marketplace in Seoul’s Jung-gu District, singing classes in Jongno-gu District and nursing homes across the region.
“We believe widespread infections that are either asymptomatic or latent are primarily to blame for the muted effects of our social distancing measures.”
Level two.five social distancing measures for the capital area and level 2 for other regions have been in place since Tuesday but with numbers still increasing, the government could consider raising the measures to level 3.
I hear there are also rising concerns over potential shortages in supplies?
Yes. Health authorities are concerned that hospital beds for COVID-19 patients could run out amid the latest outbreak.
As of Tuesday, the Seoul Metropolitan Government says out of the 62 hospital beds it has set aside in specialized COVID-19 treatment centers for the critically-ill, only three are remaining.
In response, the government will be setting up some 150 temporary facilities in the greater Seoul area to ramp up testing for the next three weeks.
Modular sickbeds inside containers have been set up at the Seoul Medical Center, while more residential treatment centers for patients with mild symptoms and specialized COVID-19 treatment centers are being set up.
That’s reassuring to know.
What news do we have on vaccine procurement?
The Korean government had announced plans to secure vaccines for 44 million people, or around 85-percent of the country’s population.
In an emergency meeting held on Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in vowed that the government will promptly secure enough vaccines even if it incurs additional expenses.
(Korean , Dec. 9)
“I ask you to put the safety and the lives of our people first, no matter the extra cost. I also ask that you to monitor the vaccines to gauge their safety and efficacy, so that we can begin our inoculations sooner when the vaccines eventually arrive here.”
Despite possible delays in the UK which has started its vaccinations, Korean health authorities say procuring AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccines for local distribution will be carried out without a hitch.
Authorities say locally-manufactured AstraZeneca vaccines, which will be produced by SK Bioscience will only be distributed to Korea and not shipped elsewhere.
Seoul’s health ministry has announced deals with four drugmakers AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson and Moderna, which will provide enough doses to inoculate 34 million people.
Vaccines for 10 million people will also be secured the global vaccine initiative COVAX.
I understand AstraZeneca has published its full set of test data for its vaccine?
Yes. Up until now, like Pfizer and Moderna their clinical trial results were released through press releases and not through peer-reviewed academic journals.
But AstraZeneca became the first vaccine developer to publish their full test data in the British scientific journal, the Lancet this week.
It seems to have addressed many questions, concerning the reliability of the vaccine, sparked earlier this year as some clinical trial subject reportedly got only a partial dose.
The latest data show that AstraZeneca vaccines are safe and about 70-percent effective, which is lower than the initially claimed 90 percent efficacy.
But questions still remain on how well it can protect those over 55 years old, which is key in fighting the coronavirus since the majority of severe illnesses and deaths occur among older patients.
Researchers are also still trying to determine which dose regimen can produce the greatest protection.
Thank you Ji-yeon for this report.