South Korea reported 731 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, the highest number of infections in 97 days since the country had 832 new cases on Jan. 7. The number of new cases jumped from the 400s early last week to the 700s on Thursday, showing signs of a fourth wave of COVID-19. Minister of Health and Welfare Kwon Deok-chul said the country is in a desperately dangerous situation.
A setback in vaccine procurement plan is adding to the concern. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended a pause in using Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine over blood clot concerns. South Korea has an agreement to get 6 million doses of the J&J vaccine but has not set the exact schedule for J&J’s jab. Under the circumstances, it has become even more unclear when South Korea will receive J&J’s vaccine now that rare side effects have been reported with the vaccine.
The arrival of other vaccines is not in sight, either. Moderna CEO agreed to supply 20 million doses of its vaccine to South Korea from May during his phone call with President Moon Jae-in in December last year. However, there are concerns that the shipment of the vaccine will be delayed since Moderna is providing its vaccine to the U.S. first. South Korea finalized a deal with Novavax to get vaccines worth 20 million doses but the Novavax vaccine is yet to be approved for use internationally. The current situation is in contrast to President Moon’s remarks on Monday that South Korea is significantly reducing uncertainties about supplies.
The most realistic way to curb the spread of COVID-19 at the moment is to strictly follow social distancing and quarantine measures. However, people are experiencing mental and emotional fatigue due to the prolonged COVID-19 pandemic, the amount of traffic has increased significantly in spring, and cases of entertainment facilities operating illegally are being reported. The government said it will review whether the current social-distancing level and restrictions on the operating hours of businesses need to be adjusted after watching the COVID-19 situation this week, signaling for heightened social distancing rules.
The government needs to earn public confidence to ask for inconvenience and sacrifice once again to the people. To this end, it is essential that the government disclose vaccine-related information in a transparent manner. Putting an emphasis on achieving herd immunity by November when there is a setback in vaccine supply and inoculation plan would be like giving a false hope to the people. The best way to regain people’s confidence is to disclose in detail when and how much vaccines will be supplied and how serious the side effects of vaccines are, and ask for people’s understanding, if necessary.