|Students show their foreheads for temperature checks before entering classrooms at Jeonnam High School in Gwangju, Wednesday. Schools reopened to about 1.78 million additional students nationwide on the day under the government's third phase of reopenings. / Yonhap|
By Jun Ji-hye
Korea is aiming to develop treatments for COVID-19 by the end of the year and vaccines by next year, Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo said Wednesday, vowing to offer full support to promising pharmaceutical companies.
"We will fully support promising companies and gather all the abilities of universities, research institutions, hospitals and the government with an aim of developing treatments this year and vaccines next year," Park said during a meeting of a government committee for COVID-19 treatment and vaccine development.
He said the government plans to offer more than 100 billion won ($82 million) in emergency aid through a supplementary budget to achieve the goal.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), 49 new infections were detected Tuesday, bringing the country's total to 11,590. There was one more death, pushing the toll to 273.
Of the 49 cases, 48 emerged in Seoul and nearby areas including Incheon and Gyeonggi Province. Most were traced to gatherings at churches.
The KCDC noted that the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety has decided to allow special imports of remdesivir, developed by the U.S. biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. The antiviral drug has appeared to be promoting recovery in moderately ill COVID-19 patients, according to the drugmaker.
The decision on special imports came following a request from the KCDC. Korea is yet to complete clinical tests on the new drug.
The special import of medicine needs approval by the drug safety minister, though their clinical tests are yet to be completed here.
In a bid to enhance the independence and professionalism of the KCDC, the government is moving to restructure the health ministry and the organization, according to the Ministry of Interior and Safety.
The plan calls for elevating the status of the KCDC to make it an independent institution that has autonomy in managing budget and personnel matters, among others.
Meanwhile, schools reopened to about 1.78 million additional students nationwide on Wednesday, under the government's third phase of reopenings.
However, about 510 schools postponed the move and returned to online classes amid lingering concerns over further infection clusters, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said, noting that authorities remain on high alert.
The fourth and final phase of school reopenings is scheduled for Monday.