In a bid to uplift cross-border travel without compromising the fight against the coronavirus, South Korea on Thursday announced that it will unveil COVID-19 passports to its vaccinated residents.
The mobile application that will enable global travelers to present a soft copy of vaccination as confirmation will be introduced to the country within April, according to Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun.
“The introduction of a vaccine passport or ‘Green Pass’ will only allow those who have been vaccinated to experience the recovery to their daily lives,” the prime minister said during a government meeting. He said that the application will be built with blockchain technology to ensure safety from forging.
The roll out of vaccine passports have stirred controversy in several nations.
There are other countries still standing against its usage despite that the European Union has bent to press other southern nations to follow suit.
The same certificate has already been introduced to China, among other countries.
The country has begun covering the general public aged 75 and beyond on its vaccination campaign as it utilized Pfizer and BionNTech’s COVID-19 vaccines. Out of 3.5 million people, there were already 86 percent who expressed their will to be vaccinated.
On Thursday, 5 percent of the population or 2, 586, 769 people were already vaccinated. Health authorities said there were 175, 794 more people vaccinated that the other day.
People who already completed the doses of the vaccine, meanwhile, already reached 148, 282.
According to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), 1, 444, 013 of the vaccine shots have used the AstraZeneca brand while 1, 142, 756 were of Pfizer.
There were also cases of post-vaccination side effects which already reached 14, 567, of which 98.1 percent cases manifest muscle soreness and fever, or mild symptoms.
For the deaths following vaccinations, health authorities said 68 were so far recorded but the connection on the vaccination is yet to be confirmed.
The country’s defense force was also covered by the vaccination campaign with some 126, 000 troops whose age are beyond 30 have received their shots from Wednesday.
Other 117, 000 social service workers like police officers and firefighters, along with pharmacists, therapists and patients undergoing dialysis have also received their vaccines from Monday.
By the end of the month, health authorities target to get 3 million people vaccinated; whereas by the end of June, some 12 million people are aimed to already be covered by the vaccination program.
South Korea eyes to vaccinate about 70 percent of its people with the first vaccine dose by September and reach herd immunity by November this year.
Despite the insecurity of vaccine supplies, the country has already closed a deal for vaccine supply enough for about twice of its total population, or is sufficient to cover 99 million people.
The country has secured vaccine supplies from the COVAX Facility project of the World Health Organization, along with private vaccine developers including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novavax, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen.
Progress on testing
Industry officials announced on Wednesday that residents may already buyself-test kits for COVID-19 starting Monday next week.
Local biotech companies, SD Biosensor and Humanis, are the two test kits that will be made available for purchase at local pharmacies or through online platforms.
The self-test kits have been given conditional-use approval by the Food and Drug Safety last week.
The said products were also rolled out in many European nations following the granting of local approval on its emergency use.
Although the retail price has not yet been finalized, Humasis said their self-test kits will cost in a range of 9, 000 and 10, 000 won or $8 to $9 per unit.
The company announced that their items will be available starting May 3.
On the other hand, SD Biosensor said that they are also yet to settle the price of their products with a couple of local distributors that would furnish the test kits in the nation.
“(The company) plans to announce the price of its self-test kits on Wednesday or Thursday,” expressed Heo Tae-young, SD Biosensor CEO. “The test kits will be available at local pharmacies, starting early next week,” Heo said.
The Drug Ministry announced that self-test kits are anticipated to be sold at a maximum of 10, 000 won on consumers as factory prices reach 7, 000 won.
SD Biosensor- and Humanis-produced home test kits utilize disinfected nasal swab.
Both can be used by consumers to spot particular antigens of the virus in the specimens gathered from one’s nasal cavity.
Home test kits can provide results to patients in a span of 15 to 20 minutes.
However, the KDCA said the kits will be used as a supplementary tool as they do not generate very accurate results like the preemptive polymerase chain reaction tests.
South Korea’s health agency recommends people who are confirmed to catch the virus to use PCR tests.
The same is also recommended to those who manifest symptoms of the disease but tested negative for COVID.
In a bid to urge people to get vaccinated, South Korea announced on Wednesday that it will give exemptions on required quarantine measures to completely vaccinated people against the virus.
South Koreans who already finished their virus vaccine shots will not anymore be asked to go through a mandatory quarantine for two weeks starting May 5, said senior health official Yoon Tae-ho, during a press briefing.
The two-week quarantine was a mandatory measure for people who were identified to have been in contact with a COVID-19 positive case or for those who have a history of travel abroad.
The quarantine exemption will only be offered for residents who can present negative COVID-19 tests and manifest no symptoms of the disease.
However, those who will return to the country from Brazil and South Africa, will not be covered by the exemptions as new virus variants were detected in those areas.
It will also not apply to those who have received COVID-19 vaccines overseas.
Amid the pandemic, the country’s gross domestic product has improved by 1.6 percent in the first three months this year following the significant increase in investment.
Corporate investment in facilities, private consumption and government spending are the three main factors which triggered the economy of the country to expand faster than what is expected, said the Bank of Asia.
“The Korean economy even passed the level in the right before the coronavirus pandemic,” exclaimed the director at the central bank, Park Yang-soo. “The country’s exports are even above the fourth quarter of 2019, although private consumption dropped about 5% compared to the level.”
Due to the United States’ fortified stimulus package, the director said that the exports of South Korea will resume its growth for a longer period.
However, he expressed that the international chip insufficiency will pose a problem.
For the second quarter, economists anticipate strong export data.
“For exports, the base effects are likely to be particularly strong in April, and may lift export growth by 19 percentage points,” a Nomura economist Park Jeong-woo said. “Although the base effects appear poised to turn negative in the second half, their overall impact is unlikely to alter the underlying trend of export growth, which we expect to remain strong.”
Last year, due to the pandemic’s impact on consumer spending, the country saw a first time after a long time’s drop on its economy.
The fall last year has followed the Asian financial crisis in 1997 to 1998.
However, South Korea’s practically positive management of the pandemic and fortified exports constricted the
But the country’s reasonably successful handling of the pandemic and strong exports limited the shrinkage to 1 percent.
The rate was better compared to those seen in the U.S., the U.K. and Japan, although the country’s contraction last year was extraordinary as the majority of countries with main economies like China also saw a drop.
Meanwhile, the country’s leading trader, China, saw a 2.3 percent expansion last year.
Earlier this month, it said that the gross domestic product has shot up to a record 18.3 percent during the first three months this year.
Like other East Asian nations, South Korea has seen fewer virus cases and casualties as compared to other countries in the world.
Government officials settled on applying flexible restrictions that relies on the number of cases recorded in a certain period of time.
Despite that the consumer spending may not make progress at the same speed, economists claim that this year, the economy will come back to progression due to robust investment and exports.
According to the Korea International Trade Association, there is a projected increase in exports by 6 percent, which will be driven by automobiles, petrochemicals and semiconductors.
South Korea, however, like other countries, has again seen the emergence of rise in cases following the dominance of new virus variants.
Since the global pandemic, the country has so far recorded 120, 673 virus cases on Wednesday, following the 775 additional COVID-19 cases, KDCA record shows.