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All South Koreans getting free vaccines, president says

All South Koreans getting free vaccines, president says
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South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday said that all South Koreans would be offered the coronavirus vaccine for free.

Moon made the statement during his New Year’s address, according to The Associated Press. Vaccinations are set to begin in phases in South Korea in February.

Vaccination plans will be worked out this month by South Korean officials, the AP reports. Those recommended to get the vaccine first include medical workers, the elderly, those with chronic illnesses, police and soldiers.

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The AP notes that new coronavirus cases in South Korea have begun to level off recently after surging for several weeks. Intense social distancing rules that closed down certain businesses and limited gatherings to around four or five people were recently extended into January.

Though considered a success story at the beginning of the pandemic, the AP reports that the country has faced backlash over its delayed timelines in approving vaccines when compared to other countries like the U.S. and United Kingdom, which have already approved multiple vaccines in the past few months.

In response to the backlash, South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it would be shortening its approval process from an average of 180 days to as little as 40 days. The AP notes that officials have stated the government has secured enough vaccines to inoculate 56 million people, more than enough for its population of 52 million.

In December, South Korean officials announced that the more infectious U.K. variant of COVID-19 had been detected in the country. It was detected in three people who arrived from London.

According to the World Health Organization, South Korea has confirmed nearly 70 million cases and more than 1,000 deaths since the pandemic began.