(ATTN: UPDATES with more remarks, details; ADDS photo, byline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Jan. 11 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in said Monday that the government will provide all South Korean people with free-of-charge COVID-19 vaccines in phases starting next month.
"(The government) will make sure that all of the people will be inoculated free of charge in accordance with priorities," he said in his New Year's address, assuring that inoculation will begin in February.
Having signed contracts with some foreign vaccine makers, South Korea expects the first-batch delivery of products within the coming weeks.
Moon also cited the ongoing process of reviewing the effectiveness and safety of a treatment developed by a South Korean firm and promised to make public all relevant procedures transparently.
"(The government) will continue to encourage South Korea's own vaccine development" as part of efforts for "vaccine sovereignty" and global health care cooperation, he added in the televised 26-minute speech.
In response to public criticism over soaring home prices, Moon apologized to those who suffer difficulties from the problem and pledged "swift and various" measures for the supply of new houses.
"Especially with a focus on expanding supply, (we) will swiftly map out various measures to have a quick effect," he said.
On diplomacy, he said the government will strengthen the Seoul-Washington alliance on the occasion of the upcoming launch of the Joe Biden administration.
He vowed to make a "last-ditch effort" to pull off a "great transition" in the stalled North Korea-U.S. and inter-Korean dialogue. He has less than 1 1/2 years in office.
"The key driving force of the peace process on the Korean Peninsula is dialogue and win-win cooperation," he stressed. "Our will to meet (with North Korea) anytime, anywhere, even in a non-face-to-face formula remains unchanged."
Moon announced that South Korea will also "actively consider" joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a 11-party free trade agreement in the Asia-Pacific region, while speeding up a push to forge free trade agreements (FTAs) with the Philippines, Cambodia and Uzbekistan.
In addition, the government will accelerate negotiations with China and Russia on the service-sector FTAs and trade talks with Latin American nations, he said in reference to Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance.
He briefly mentioned Japan, saying Seoul will keep striving for the "forward-looking development" of bilateral ties.
Moon, meanwhile, declared success in the "systemic reform" of powerful institutions, including the state prosecution service, and vowed close communication and cooperation for the new system to take root with stability.
"Reforming powerful institutions is to achieve checks and balances," he emphasized.
For South Korea, he added, 2021 will be a year of "recovery" from the coronavirus crisis, "inclusiveness" to reduce social disparities and a "leap" toward becoming a leading nation.
Moon's address came as his job approval ratings have notably dropped in recent months, apparently affected by the third wave of massive coronavirus infections, instability in the real estate market and controversies over his prosecution reform campaign.