South Korea Premier Sees 70% First-Shot Vaccination by End of September

South Korea wants to have 70% of its population vaccinated with at least a first shot by the end of September, the premier said, speeding up one of the lowest inoculation rates among major Asian economies as cases surge to record highs.

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum, at the forefront of the government’s pandemic policy, said Tuesday that South Korea would keep funneling aid to small businesses hurt by strict social distancing measures aimed at stemming a record Covid-19 wave powered by the delta variant. Kim indicated Seoul would do all it can to avoid a lockdown.

South Korea Premier Sees 70% First-Shot Vaccination by End of September

“We’re looking at various ways, such as cross-inoculation with other companies, in order to reach a 70% first-shot vaccination rate by the end of September,” Kim said in an interview with Bloomberg, referring to the mix of Covid-19 vaccines from suppliers including Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc.

“If we were to be ambitious, we could reach a 70% rate for second shots by the end of October or at least mid-November,” said Kim, who took office earlier this year and is a key player in virus policy for President Moon Jae-in until his single, five-year term ends in about nine months.

Daily new virus cases started to surge in July with the emergence of the delta variant while the vaccine rollout was slowed by supply shortages and shipment delays. Inoculations have sped up in recent weeks with about 20% of the population fully vaccinated, up from 15% last week. Previously, it took six weeks to rise from 10% to 15%.

But South Korea lags Japan, which started its inoculations at about the same time and now has 38% of its population fully vaccinated. Singapore leads Asia with 73% fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

South Korea’s once lauded virus containment strategy, which operated without a lockdown, is now facing another major challenge but Kim indicated the country could weather the current storm without turning to lockdowns.

“One of the reasons why we think Korea has succeeded in prevention is because we didn’t turn to extreme measures like lockdowns,” he said, adding the approach has limited the economic damage.

South Korea will also be looking to support its powerful semiconductor industry to help its economy as the pandemic wanes, Kim said. Aid would be extended to other areas, and up to about $17,000 would be provided to small business owners, starting from Tuesday, he added.

South Korea is willing to stand by its U.S. ally even when it pursues supply chains for components that don’t involve China, Kim said. “It’s impossible for a single country to monopolize the industry, and thus we are happy to participate the U.S.-led global supply chain that excludes China, which America envisioned, as a partner.”

South Korea Premier Sees 70% First-Shot Vaccination by End of September

Kim, 63, took part in rallies in the 1980s to bring down authoritarian rule. He became a prominent figure in Moon’s progressive camp and is seen as a moderate. He has not tossed his hat into the ring for the 2022 presidential race and, when asked if he might consider a 2027 run, said: “Maybe I’m too old at that time.”

In the interview, Kim extended an olive branch to North Korea and Japan, and spoke more about the chip industry.

Here are some highlights:

North Korea:

“I hope that the North Korean leadership makes the right decision to have dialogue when the leaders of South Korea and the U.S. say we could use both diplomatic and engagement methods to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.”

Japan:

“Korea and Japan are countries in Northeast Asia that share the values of human rights, democracy and a market economy. We should overcome the obstacles and should talk for the future. I hope we could have that after the election in Japan.”

China:

“I can tell you clearly that the ROK-U.S. alliance is the most crucial foundation of our foreign strategy and security. However, China is our close neighbor that shares a maritime border with us and is our biggest trading partner. Therefore, we must pursue a pragmatic relation with Beijing. Having said that, we have no intention of making advances that risk our fundamental framework of the ROK-U.S. alliance,’ he said, referring to South Korea by its formal name.

Semiconductors:

“The semiconductor industry has a strategic importance in our economy, thus it would be natural for us to support industry players such as Samsung and SK Hynix, which have market dominance in the semiconductor field.”

Partisanship:

“I’d like to stress to both conservatives and progressives, that a bird can only fly high when it has both wings. I’d like to request our political leaders not to be afraid of making compromises.”

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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