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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Aug. 5)

All News 07:04 August 05, 2021

Uphill battle ahead
Tighten quarantine and speed up vaccination

The highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 has already become the dominant strain of the coronavirus. Worse still, two people were found to be infected with the new Delta plus variant even after they were fully vaccinated. Little is known about Delta plus, yet it is feared to be more infectious than the Delta variant and far more difficult to bring under control.

Against this backdrop, the fourth wave of infections here is showing no signs of abating at all. The number of new daily infections surged to 1,725 Wednesday, up from the previous day's 1,202, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA). The figure surpassed 1,700 for the first time in five days.

Since the Delta variant has emerged as the common strain, new infections have increased rapidly in countries with higher rates of inoculation. Given this, the United States and others have begun to impose stricter quarantine measures including mandating wearing masks in public places. President Moon Jae-in also expressed concerns about the variant, saying, "We thought vaccines would be the solution. But the situation has unexpected complications."

Though such variants may reduce the efficacy of vaccines, inoculation is, undoubtedly, the most effective way to cope with the pandemic. In fact, 96 percent of new infections in May and June occurred among unvaccinated people. The government should speed up the vaccination program along with tougher quarantine measures including extending the current Level 4 social distancing in Seoul and its metropolitan area.

Major Western countries such as the European Union and the U.S. plan to administer booster shots to tackle the variants, prompting concerns about an acuter shortage of vaccines. Further, global pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer and Moderna have decided to raise the prices of their vaccines, putting an additional burden on the Korean government.

The KDCA said the administration is engaged in last-ditch negotiations with vaccine makers to secure sufficient coronavirus vaccines for next year. It added that negotiations are underway to purchase about 50 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. The authorities should redouble their efforts to ensure the procurement of vaccines without any delay.

What's imperative is to speed up the vaccination process. Any delay in inoculations will cause more infections and extend economically damaging social distancing measures. The Moon administration should do all it can to abide by its pledge to give the first of the two required shots to 70 percent of the country's population by Chuseok, the full-moon harvest festival holiday, which falls Sept. 20 to 22.

The EU has already secured 4.4 billion doses, equivalent to 10 times its total population, while the U.S. and Canada have also stockpiled 10 times and seven times their populations, respectively. As experts put it, COVID-19 can possibly become an annually recurring contagious disease like influenza. Given this, the government should provide all possible assistance to domestic pharmaceutical companies so they can develop their own vaccines as soon as possible.

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