First doses to arrive in March, but officials will wait and see how vaccines work in other countries to ensure safety.
South Korea authorities were scrambling on Thursday to build temporary hospitals in shipping containers to alleviate medical facilities stretched by the latest coronavirus wave, as the government warned that the resurgence was “accelerating” nationwide.
Authorities have also increased the number of residential treatment centres and clinics fully dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds.
On Thursday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 682 new virus cases – most of them in the greater area of the capital Seoul.
Eight additional coronavirus deaths were reported, raising the death toll to 564, according to the Yonhap news agency.
While new cases showed a slight decrease from 686 on Wednesday, health authorities noted that the number was still the third-highest since January, when the country’s first case was reported.
More than 3,000 new infections have been identified across the country during the past week.
Of that number, patients with serious symptoms increased to 172, compared with 149 on Wednesday.
The resurgence of infections has rekindled concerns about an acute shortage of hospital beds, prompting Seoul city to begin installing container beds for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Health authorities also plan to step up testing by opening temporary sites at some 150 locations across the greater Seoul area.
“We’re making all-out efforts to stop the spread in the Seoul metropolitan area by mobilising all available resources,” Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told a meeting on Thursday.
“Above all, we will secure sufficient treatment centres and hospital beds for critical cases so that they can receive proper treatment in a timely manner.”
New cases have remained about 600 during the past week, driven by smaller, harder-to-trace clusters in the densely populated capital. The earlier two waves were centred on a handful of groups or regions.
As virus infections continued to rise, health authorities are urging people to follow the enhanced social distancing guidelines which took effect in greater Seoul on Tuesday. The country’s Central Disease Control Headquarters has also said it will be expanding the number of people being tested for the virus.
In addition, health authorities have expanded the number of residential treatment centres and clinics dedicated to treating COVID-19 patients to brace for a possible shortage of hospital beds.
South Korea this week announced it had reached agreements to buy vaccines for 44 million people, nearly 90 percent of the country’s population.
“The end of a long tunnel [in the anti-virus fight] is seen at last,” President Moon Jae-in said.
South Korea will be able to begin vaccination in February or March 2021, when the initial batch of vaccines is expected to arrive.
But Moon also warned that it is still too early to be complacent.