South Korea Eyes Early Herd Immunity to Fuel Economic Growth

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South Korea may achieve herd immunity “significantly” earlier than it plans, with a faster-than-expected economic expansion poised to bring jobs back to pre-pandemic levels in several months, Acting Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said.

The country’s November target of reaching herd immunity could be moved up if manufacturers honor their supply deals, Hong said Wednesday in a press briefing.

“I’d rather be cautious than say the exact timing, but we’ll do our best to move up the November target.”

Korea’s economic growth beat estimates in the first quarter, helping the country join China in surpassing the pre-pandemic size of its economy. Still, consumption has trailed the recovery in exports and investment, and the slow pace of vaccinations remains the biggest hurdle to revitalizing domestic activity.

South Korea Eyes Early Herd Immunity to Fuel Economic Growth

The country has led a relatively successful quarantine campaign against the coronavirus, but has lagged behind other developed nations in administering shots for its people. Persistent Covid outbreaks and social distancing restrictions have meant the job market has yet to heal.

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Investment spurred by semiconductor and vehicle exports helped the economy recover last quarter, said Hong, who also serves as finance minister. Still, it will take months before jobs return as well, he added. Hong cited previous post-crisis cases when it took three to five months for the jobs recovery to materialize.

Consumption may also “explode” on pent-up demand once the pandemic subsides, Hong said.

“The containment of local outbreaks is the biggest factor in the economy’s rebound,” he said, estimating that 0.8% growth in each of the remaining quarters would allow the economy to expand more than 4% for the year. The government currently sees a mid- to upper-3% economic expansion in 2021.

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Asked whether the country may be relying too heavily on semiconductors for growth, Hong said the direction for developing the technology further beyond memory chips is “unmovable” and that the importance of the industry will outweigh concerns over over-reliance.

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