The government faces criticism of its vaccination program, considered too slow.
South Korean officials will step up efforts to launch a public coronavirus vaccination program as the country revealed on Monday it had detected its first cases of the virus variant linked to the rapid increase in cases in Britain .
The new variant, believed to be more contagious than others currently in circulation, was found in a family that arrived in South Korea from London on December 22, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA ).
The three have been isolated since they tested positive, according to the KDCA statement.
The new strain of the virus emerged earlier this month in Britain and has already reached several European countries, as well as Canada, Jordan and Japan.
This prompted more than 50 countries to impose travel restrictions on Britain, including South Korea, which has banned flights from Britain until the end of the year.
Overall, the KDCA reported 808 new cases as of midnight (03:00 GMT) on Sunday. The country reported a record 1,241 infections on Friday.
Authorities have warned that the drop could be due to reduced testing over the weekend and Christmas holidays and said on Sunday they would extend social distancing measures until early January.
The South Korean government has faced growing national criticism of its vaccine procurement and deployment plans, which require the first vaccinations to begin in the first quarter of next year, months after countries like the United States. United and the European Union.
Anger at the vaccination plan has undermined support for President Moon Jae-in, whose disapproval rate has reached an all-time high of nearly 60%, pollster Realmeter said Monday.
Regulators will shorten the period required to approve vaccines and treatments from an average of 180 days to just 40 days, the Food and Drug Safety Ministry said on Sunday.
An additional approval process for the distribution and sale of vaccines, which typically takes several months, will be shortened to around 20 days, the ministry said.
Medical workers and elderly residents will begin receiving vaccinations in February and vaccination plans for the general public are accelerating, Presidential Chief of Staff Noh Young-min said on Sunday.
“The government is doing everything it can to move forward within this time frame and is also making progress,” he said.
South Korea has announced plans to purchase enough doses to eventually immunize 46 million people, or more than 85% of its population.
Noh said authorities expected the South Korean population to achieve a level of herd immunity from vaccines as quickly or faster than many other countries.
South Korea has reported a total of 57,680 cases of the coronavirus, with 819 deaths.