South Korea has become the latest country in the Asia Pacific region to consider abandoning its coronavirus elimination strategy, announcing plans to potentially lift Covid-19 restrictions despite rising case numbers.
Seoul is attempting to bring the country’s fourth – and largest – Covid-19 outbreak under control, with more than 2,100 new local infections reported in the past 24 hours, according to Korea’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
The Greater Seoul area remains under level 4 restrictions, the toughest available, with gatherings of five or more people banned. Authorities fear the upcoming Korean Thanksgiving Chuseok holiday beginning September 17 could worsen the outbreak.
Yet despite the recent rise in cases, President Moon Jae-in’s office announced possible plans on Wednesday to lift restrictions, once enough of the population is fully vaccinated
Citing KDCA’s Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong, Moon’s office said once 80% of adults have received both doses, as well as 90% of people aged over 60, restrictions on daily life could be relaxed across the country.
South Korean health ministry official Son Young-rae said at current vaccination rates, the target will likely be hit in late October. As of Tuesday, almost 71% of South Korean adults have been given one vaccination, while about 42.6% have been fully vaccinated.
South Korea has reported 267,470 confirmed Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic and the death toll now stands at 2,343.
Singapore and Australia have already unveiled plans to vaccinate a high percentage of their adult populations to limit serious Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths, while removing a focus on eliminating all infections.
But Singapore has struggled to keep Covid-19 cases low after removing restrictions, despite being one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. On Monday, the head of Singapore’s Covid-19 taskforce Lawrence Wong warned restrictions may have to be reintroduced if the number of serious cases continues to rise.
Australia’s biggest state reveals Covid roadmap
On Thursday, the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) revealed its path out of lockdown, as the state capital Sydney posted the country’s highest numbers of new daily infections since the pandemic began – 1,405 cases.
Sydney and most of the state of NSW have been under lockdown since late June following an outbreak of the highly-infectious Covid-19 Delta variant. Millions of citizens in Melbourne, Victoria, and the Australian capital Canberra have also endured long lockdowns to contain the outbreak.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday that once 70% of the adult population is fully vaccinated citizens who have had both doses won’t have to follow stay-at-home orders.
To date, 42.7% of the adult population have had both their Covid-19 doses in NSW. Berejiklian said she didn’t want to commit to a date on which the 70% goal would be hit, only saying the restrictions would be lifted “the Monday after”.
“It is really up to how quickly people get vaccinated and how many people come forward for the vaccine,” Berejiklian added.
Australia’s federal government is pushing for states to re-open once the 70% vaccination target is met. On Wednesday, Trade Minister Dan Tehan said the country could start developing international vaccine passports as early as next month.
Reuters and CNN’s Angus Watson contributed to this article.